No, this post is more about the perceptions and misperceptions of consulting. It’s based on several conversations I’ve had recently with ODC colleagues and others about our consulting lifestyle. It’s amazing the ideas we hear from friends, family, and other professionals.
It may be a plain and simple “the grass is always greener” issue. We all know intuitively that each job has it’s pros and cons. Consulting is no different. But I’m sure other consultants can attest to the frequency of comments we get about the our profession from non-consultants:
“I’d love to have your flexibility.”
“Must be nice to not have a real job.”
“I’d love to be my own boss, too.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love my post-corporate life. I embrace the many aspects of a consulting life. But just as with most perspectives, there are bits of truth to the comments heard and there are considerable misperceptions. So, let me address some of them….
Flexibility – It’s true. I do enjoy the flexibility that I have as a consultant. But let’s be transparent here. It’s more about being able to control my calendar than flexibility in whether or not to work. After all, consultant compensation is typically…well, atypical. We’re not salaried. We don’t have guaranteed income each months. It’s a dog-eat-dog consulting world out there, and as the saying goes, “We’re wearing Milkbone underwear!”
In other words, my experience has been that while I indeed have more control over the specifics of my calendar, flexibility does not equal less work. In fact, I’d say the opposite….
Real Jobs – We’ve all heard the quip “Those who can’t do, consult.” Seems to me those who make such remarks don’t fundamentally understand the business aspect of consulting. Beyond providing expertise, counsel, coaching, or actual products & services, what is a consultant? He’s a business owner. She’s a salesperson. He’s a writer.
Consultants aren’t simply sitting back, passing along the occasional platitude in exchange for thousands of unearned dollars (at least most of us are not, but I’m open if the gig should present itself!). We’re faced with a necessity to network, build relationships, identify problems and solutions, to market ourselves and our services. We spend time each week budgeting, planning, team building, and customer service. Still think it’s not a real job? It’s really not that different from many other entrepreneurs or business jobs.
Be Your Own Boss – This here’s a double-edged sword, to be sure. As stated above, I do have the ability to set my own hours and work when I choose to work. Of course, if I choose not to work, I may have trouble putting food on the table or paying the mortgage at the end of the month. But, yes, if I want to go for a 2-hour run in the middle of the day, I often simply do that. The exchange? Well, it’s not uncommon for me to be working late into the night instead. But the real misperception is that I’m free of the influence or accountability to someone else, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, if I have clients, I am most definitely accountable to others each and every day. I have customer expectations. I’m faced with deadlines and deliverables, no different than anyone else. And if I don’t deliver, guess what? I’m fired. I’ll lose that client and the income they provide. So, am I my own boss? Yes…..and no.
In my career, I’ve been fortunate to have been able to carve out a wonderful mix of teaching and consulting. And with each passing month and year, I’m able to further evolve the mix of work that I’m doing, focusing more and more on the types of projects that bring me tremendous passion and reward (intellectually, not necessarily only financial). My ability to reduce those projects for which I have less enthusiasm is growing, and someday, it’s my goal to have eliminated those entirely (preferably through outsourcing of those projects, not just by turning them down). I’m getting there….which feels really good.
So, if I ever chuckle when you state your envy for my career lifestyle, understand that I’m not laughing directly at you, but more at the frequency of the perceptions of my life. There are plenty of wonderful things about a consulting career, but each of those comes at a price. But it’s a price I’m definitely willing to pay.
And on that note….back to the 60-page leadership audit report we’re delivering on Friday to our latest “boss.” Burning the midnight oil….but, oh, how we love it!