For years I was terrified at the idea of working for myself. For all those years I said, “Ha ha, that’s not me – entrepreneurism? No thanks!” I was 100% dead-set against the idea of going out on my own.
“Nope, not my deal!” I would tell anyone who asked. “I’m a company kind of gal.”
I already knew the most important thing there is to know about consulting. I’ll tell you what that thing is in a second. Here’s how I learned the most important thing: my boss sent me on my first consulting job.
My boss was the president of the company where I was HR Manager. My friend and mentor Ray said “A CEO friend of mine down the street from your office wants some help with his HR practices.” I was twenty-eight.
I said to my boss, “You know Ray, right? Ray has a client down the street who needs some HR help for his business. It’s a manufacturing company.”
“You should do it,” said my boss. “It will be good for you.”
I said, “I have no idea how to do something like that.”
“That’s why you’re the perfect person,” he said. “Do it after hours, after you finish your day here.”
I talked to Ray. I talked to the client, a manufacturing CEO three doors down from our company in the same industrial park. On the day of our first meeting, I walked down the street with dread in my heart and my little notebook and pen in my purse.
What if I screwed up? What if I embarrassed myself?
Ray knew better than I did, and my boss did too. It was a ground-up HR assignment. Do you have the required posters in your breakroom? How about an Equal Employment Opportunity policy, and safety processes? Can I see your employee handbook? Thanks! How do you hire new employees?
I broke it down. It was a very satisfying assignment — I looked forward to going to the guy’s facility three doors down and organizing his HR systems. It’s always easier to solve other people’s problems than your own!
The veil was lifted. Geez Louise, I said to myself, this is like breathing. I already knew that the Big Lie in business was then and is still now the fiction that business is complicated and esoteric and too lofty for stupid people like you and me to understand.
That’s the Big Lie. Everything that matters in business is actually as simple as pie, but people who think it grows their flame to make other people look and feel stupid pretend that the goofy business jargon, the weenie rules and the fussy details are the important stuff.
Those things are all means to an end. They are tools. Unfortunately the Godzilla culture has elevated silly tools and methods to an exalted place.
That’s why we started the Human Workplace movement, to yell from our rooftop and encourage other people to yell from theirs that real business is nothing more complicated than smart people banding together to do cool things. We wanted to start a movement to get everybody talking about the fact that the Emperor of Business has no clothes.
We wanted to remind working people not to let anyone make them feel stupid because they don’t understand a business term or the latest buzzword. People who obsess about buzzwords are fearful, pitiable creatures who deserve our compassion.
Young people just starting out in your careers, listen to your Aunt Liz! You are awesome right now, and anyone who tries to make you feel Less Than Professional by telling you they know more than you do is someone who never learned that the most powerful people are the ones who help other people the most.
I finished the consulting project for the guy three doors down and the scary force field around consulting started to crumble. Nonetheless, I stayed in corporate America for another eighteen years, and the crust built up again.
“That project was fun,” I said to anyone who asked, “but I wouldn’t want to be a full-time consultant. I’d hate it.” The truth is that I was afraid of what I thought consulting was. I thought it was scary. I thought I’d be on the spot all the time, having to demonstrate my HR prowess over and over. Turns out all of my fearful thoughts were dead wrong.
Consulting is fun and easy. It’s satisfying and empowering, too.
I think everyone should be a consultant — correction, I think everyone IS a consultant, already, an expert in one thing or many things that could help people around them. I know you’re an expert. You can flex your consulting muscles in 2014 even if you keep your current job. You can launch a part-time consulting business on the side.
(Just make sure your employer doesn’t have a weenietastic No-Moonlighting policy in place before you start! If they do have one, write to Michael for advice. He will either counsel you to talk the higher-ups out of that silly, fear-based policy or advise you to start a stealth job search.)
Everyone should consult, the same way everyone should exercise. Consulting is exercise, in fact — you grow all kinds of muscles getting out and talking with people about their business problems, then digging in to help solve those problems and billing your clients for your contribution.
Here are the five big muscle groups you’ll grow when you hang out a consulting shingle:
- Pain-Spotting — getting altitude on your prospective clients’ Business Pain
- Perspective-Taking — seeing the world through your client’s eyes
- Storytelling — telling Dragon-Slaying Stories that illustrate your powerful experiences
- Framing — putting your client’s needs into a cohesive frame, and
- Probing — interviewing clients and others to understand their situations fully.
There is something special about the money you earn as a consultant. It has a different weight from salary dollars, where you get the same amount every pay period and have nothing specific, output-wise, to tie those salary dollars to.
When you consult and get paid for it, you know exactly where the money came from. A salary chart on the wall in HR has nothing to do with that income. You earned it the old-fashioned way, solving someone else’s expensive problem. That is the essence of the new-millennium workplace worldview we promote at Human Workplace. Even if you keep your full-time gig for years into the future, adding a consulting arm to your revenue engine can only benefit you.
It is not difficult to launch a consulting practice. In the U.S., you don’t need to incorporate to consult, but most lawyers and accountants will recommend that once your consulting engine has some steam going, you create a legal entity. The incorporation process is trivial.
You’ll need a few tools, a bookkeeper close at hand and some business cards. Setting up your consulting business is simple; more of your energy will go into zeroing in on your consulting focus and understanding the business pain that will bring clients to your door.
You’ll need a brand, but you mustn’t stress over that. You can consult under your own name for ages, or forever. Marketing collateral is a tiny piece of the puzzle for most newbie consultants and may not even be necessary. You already have a brand. You already have a following.
I don’t care if you’re 68 or nineteen years old. My teenagers have businesses of their own. They have been listening (voluntarily or not) to their mom talking about career self-determination since they were in diapers. Running your career like a business is not an optional course of action in 2014. It is a practical necessity.
Get your business cards for pennies at Vistaprint or any of the office supply stores. Pick any branding you want — you can change it for a few bucks whenever you feel like it.
My friend Jody wanted to keep her business options option. She got business cards that said “Jody Smith, Available for Lunch” on them. People loved those cards! They’d always ask Jody, “But are you available for lunch?” Over lunch, she got to understand her clients and where she could help them.
It’s a new day. You’re an expert now, and some of your expertise — possibly most of it — is bottled up, unavailable to people who need it and who would love to get your help and pay you for it. You can tap that expertise, monetize it in 2014 and grow your flame at the same time. If a corporate Sally, entrepreneurial wuss like me can step into consulting and live to tell the tale, why not you?
Our company is called Human Workplace. Our mission is to reinvent work for people.
Our 12-week virtual coaching group Launch Your Consulting Business kicks off this Saturday, February 22nd. Click here to learn more. Join us and learn how to start your own consulting business!
Read Liz Ryan’s story on Forbes.com, “What Did You Earn at Your Last Job?”
OIN the Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people! Our CEO, Liz Ryan, writes columns like this one for Forbes, Business Week, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post, Huffington Post and Yahoo! We are one year old and have 175,000 members. We’d love to get you involved!
Reach Your Hiring Manager Directly, and avoid the Black Hole!
Our new eBook “Reach Your Hiring Manager Directly Collection” has just launched. It’s on sale for $6.49 (and will sell for $29.99 after the launch period). This eBook includes 41 pages of advice on avoiding the Black Hole (recruiting portals) in your job search, and reaching your hiring manager directly with Pain Letters and your Human-Voiced Resume.
Here are 12 more ways to grow your flame with us:
1) JOIN Human Workplace as a free Friend or premium Individual member.
3) FOLLOW Liz Ryan’s columns on LinkedIn – click on the Follow button at the top of the page!
4) FOLLOW us on Twitter: @humanworkplace
6) DOWNLOAD our Whole Person Job Search & Reinvention catalog to get ideas about your own reinvention!
7) CHECK OUT our calendar of 12-week virtual coaching groups like Reinvention Roadmap, Job Search after Fifty, Grow Your Thought Leadership Flame and Interviewing with Mojo! (Not the dog Mojo — your own Mojo!)
8) REACH us to learn about getting Human Workplace ideas and materials into your HR practices, training program, leadership development and recruiting processes!
9) BOOK Liz Ryan to speak at an upcoming conference. She is an evangelistic and galvanizing speaker who will get your audience on its feet!
10) VISIT our Blog!
12) PARTNER with us to grow the Human Workplace movement and shift work out of Zombie mode and into Human mode!
If you’d like to send Liz Ryan a LinkedIn invitation, please use this email address: email@example.com
If you have a job-search or career question for us, please write to Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael will let you know how to get our help with your issue. Thanks!