Five years ago, after 25 years of senior management career including ten years as a chief executive, my initial plan was to take a break and take time to assess what I want to do with my next stage of life. I had all these wonderful ideas – learn Chinese (I am Chinese but can’t write nor speak fluently!), read books (which I had always felt guilty as I believed I should be working), and time to do exercise and get fit (yes, always excuses because I am too busy). But I didn’t do any of this!
I made a list of all my contacts – my ex- colleagues, friends and acquaintances and began a string of coffee meetings to explore work opportunities. I wasn’t thinking about consultancy then until I met Allan and Bruce. Both were members of the Virtual Consulting Group. Allan was involved in Rotary who I had dealings through work and Bruce used to be my boss back in my youth days. And the idea of being a consultant entered my mind.
They invited me to join their meeting once a month to observe and be observed. Let me explain. Virtual Group is a team of diverse consultants who work individually and collaboratively when appropriate – we are individually master of our own destiny. The Group meets face to face monthly and via various technology conferencing tools once a week. We all work separately but the fundamental value of the Group is that we support, challenge and assist one another, and we exchange ideas and maintain our relevancy by debating topical issues in the wider business world. So after a period of observing, I went through the process and was accepted as a member of the Virtual Consulting Group.
So what have I learnt from my experience of going consulting.
Networking -contacts, contacts and new contacts
Thinking back how I used to hire consultants when I was a senior manager. When you want a consultant, you want them to be available at the right time and place and with the right skills, and be able to trust them through having used them before. So be there – maintaining and developing new contacts are crucial. Ongoing contacts will be important to understand what’s going on with their businesses – it will give you an edge.
My experience is that it is essential to create new contacts on an ongoing basis. The old contacts may retire and move on. People avoid or cannot hire friends. Build a record of completed projects that will lead to more work.
A wise consultant once told me that you would require to do networking at least half a day a week consistently.
Your saleable skills
If you had been a senior manager/chief executive, your role is primarily leading and managing people. As an individual consultant, inevitably you would need to “do” the work, there is nobody to delegate to.
So think carefully what are your saleable skills – what do people want and how you can add value. Put yourself onto their position. Why would you want a consultant?
It can be tough, not everything is rosy all the time
Work doesn’t come in at the right time and right place. You could have a number of jobs come in at once or none at all. I was lucky that work opportunities came pretty fast. However, things are not rosy all the time and you need to be able to ride out the rough times and the “rejections”. So it is not for everybody. Be clear about what you want to do with your life/career at your stage of life. My needs/priorities change over the years. For me, having time with my family including travelling to see my parent and experience the world became more important, and being a consultant provides the flexibility I require.
Short term contracting and subcontracting
Being a consultant does not preclude you from picking up a short-term contract to fill in the gaps and can lead to other work. Sub-constracting to others is also another way. But beware, you need to continue your networking. When short-term work comes to an end, it puts you back where you were!
Belonging to some structure like the Virtual Consulting Group provides you with various support during your journey as a consultant. It could be lonely working on your own. Ensure you stay involved in professional organisations and it is also an opportune time to be involved with volunteer work.