Balancing consulting, job search can be challenging

by Peter Osborne on June 16, 2010 · 0 comments

“Be careful,” someone told me around this time last year.  “You’re going to find it really difficult to try to build a consulting business and continue doing an effective full-time job search. 

He was right.  And he hadn’t even mentioned the third leg of the stool: family responsibilities, which included travel sports, college applications and visits, and a host of other distractions (including spending more time with my wife now that I was at home most of the time) .

So I focused more on the consulting than the job search.  Sure, I responded to some job postings, did a lot of networking, spent time on Indeed.com and Netshare, and got a few interviews (it’s ugly out there for a former credit-card executive) but more of my time has been spent on prospecting for clients and doing the work. 

I’m constantly plagued with doubts as to whether I took the right path.  My value proposition as a consultant is somewhat different from what I’d be looking for in a full-time position.  There have been more down months than up months, revenue-wise.  Severence ended a long time ago.  But I truly believe that Consultant Launch Pad will provide a valuable service to people like me and that there will be reasonable opportunities to make money by providing valuable services to this community.

But if you’re in the same boat I was (and am) in — consulting may have become a necessity instead of an option — and you’re thinking about balancing a job search and consulting/contracting, you need to consider a few things:

  • Don’t waste “personal contact” and “networking opportunities on ordinary job-hunting.  It will confuse the people you’re talking to and your answer will probably confuse them when they ask “what do you need from me.’
  • A timely consulting proposal shows you off as a potential employee.  The whole business-development process normally gives you access to high-level contacts you might not otherwise meet, provides you with something meaningful to talk about, requires you to show your credentials, and forces you to operate in a “selling” mode.
  • Consulting gives you a greater opportunity to “audition” for the job with far lower risk to the prospective employer.  And remember, the job market is less about finding the perfect person than it is about not filling the job with the wrong person.
  • Not getting a consulting or contract seems, at least to me, to be far less personal or depressing than getting a “no” to a job application.
  • It may be easier getting a “yes” when you’re taking a portfolio approach (i.e., looking to get 4-5 ongoing projects that may take advantage of a range of skills and provide you with an acceptable combined income).  Companies are more willing these days to spend a few thousand dollars a month with no benefits and no overhead than they are to committing to a full-time person.

This is not an easy decision and should not be entered into out of desperation if you can avoid it.  Skills that worked well in a corporate environment may not work as well when it’s just you.  It’s different executing on someone else’s idea than it is finding someone who has a problem that you can help fix, often when other people in the company resent your presence or have other priorities.  But it can also be extremely gratifying when you get that “yes” on a project and do such a good job that the client hires you for more projects or tells others about you. 

Let me turn to more experienced consultants for a little third-party perspective.  Please use the Comments box to outline a typical day in your life of balancing actual projects with your sales efforts (and family responsibilities).  I believe readers thinking about making the leap will see just how difficult it is to find enough hours in a day…with a full-time search on top of things.

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