Over the years, I’ve noticed that when the economy turns sour, the number of people calling themselves consultants grows dramatically. Sometimes it seems the definition of consultant has been changed to “person between jobs.”
If you want to thrive in this next phase of your career, you need to be clear about a few things. As you consider these issues, be completely honest with yourself. And recognize that honesty can be exceedingly difficult at a time when you feel vulnerable and out of control.
First, think about what you really want. Why are you becoming a consultant? Is it something to do until the next job presents itself? Is it just a panicked reaction to the need to cover the next mortgage payment? Are you just looking for a steady income? Does the life of a consultant seem somehow glamorous and exciting compared with the workaday world of the IT employee? Do you want a flexible schedule? Are you hoping to learn lots of new technologies?
These are all valid reasons for calling yourself a consultant, but understanding your own motivations is the first step in selecting the right sort of consulting to do.
Since different people have different ideas of what a consultant is, you will have to craft a definition for what sort of consultant you want to be. The questions below will help guide you to what you really want to do.
1. What type of consultant do you want to be? There are a few broad categories to consider. All of the options offer value to clients and are valid career choices, but you need to be clear about which one you are interested in.
Contractor. Most people who call themselves consultants are really contractors –
Employee on audition. For many contractors, the contract is really an audition. If a contractor likes the client and vice versa, the contract can turn into a permanent job.
Management or technical consultant. Actually, consultants are different from both employees on trial and contractors. They rarely work on long-
Consultants, contractors and employees on trial all look for work differently and are paid differently.
2. What value can you offer? Before you think too much about your own needs, think about what value you can offer clients. If you’re too focused on your own needs, you’re unlikely to get far. You need to think about the skills and capabilities that you bring to a client and the organization.
Be articulate about that value. Think of the client asking you this question: “Why should I pay you anything?” If you can’t answer that one well, you’re in for some trouble.
3. For whom do you want to work? The value you can offer has to be tailored to the clients you want to serve. Horseshoeing is a great skill –
One of the biggest mistakes new consultants make is telling everyone they know that they can do anything for anyone. The next biggest mistake they make is believing it. That doesn’t display competence or confidence, only desperation. And that’s not a good way to enter a new profession.
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