Why is Everyone a Consultant These Days?

    As the world economy continues its slow and jagged recovery, people are slowly reentering the job market.  As they attempt to find Consultant leaving a clientwork, many are trying consulting either in a firm or going independent.  In this week’s podcast, we will discuss the trend towards consulting and the pros and cons of this trend.

    1. Is everyone really becoming a consultant?
      1. I’ve seen a big trend towards people calling themselves consultants.
      2. As you mentioned in the introduction, a lot of that is attributable to the economic problems we’ve had the last several years.
      3. There are two factors at play here.  First, there are a lot of people who are between jobs right now.  Apparently, between jobs is the new unemployed.
      4. As these people are out looking for jobs, they don’t want to show an employment gap that can sometimes be multiple years long.
      5. To accommodate for that, they say that they were an independent consultant.  Now they may have had a consulting career with a few companies and it may be legitimate consulting.
      6. But I’d venture to bet that there are quite a few out there that didn’t do any consulting and are just trying to put window dressing on a period of unemployment.
      7. The second trend that is creating a large influx of consultants is the fact that companies are more reluctant to hire a full-time employee and more likely to contract with a consultant for a short-term gig.
      8. The layoffs that companies went through over the past four or five years was very painful.  Nobody enjoys laying employees off.  Managers who went through that don’t want to start adding to the ranks if they know they may have to go lay some of them off again.
      9. It was also very damaging to morale.  People saw their friends leave and, in addition to suffering survivor’s guilt, they lost any loyalty they may have felt before the layoffs.
      10. So companies are much more willing to pay the hourly rate of a consultant that they can simply end the contract and have the consultant walk.
      11. Going through the HR process of layoffs is expense if in terms of dollars and employee morale.
    2. Is it good or bad that more people are becoming consultants?
      1. I do think it’s bad that people are calling themselves consultants if they don’t actually have a consulting career.  It gives the industry a bad reputation.  Nobody wants a big gap in their work history, but you just can’t lie on your resume.  Enough people do that and hiring companies will suspect anyone that has consulting experience on their resume.
      2. I do think more people should consider a consulting career. It’s not only a great career move, It’s kind of a mind-set for your career.
      3. Tom Peters is largely credited with starting that philosophy with his article in the late 1990s in Fast Company called “A Brand Called You”.  In that article, he proposed that everyone brand themselves like Nike has so successfully branded itself.
      4. Over the years, he’s preached about the fact that we should all treat our careers as if we were independent consultants.  We don’t necessarily need to always be in job search mode, although I know those kinds of people.  But we should always be prepared to look for out next gig.
      5. You could be let go from your job on any given day.  Or you could decide that you aren’t’ growing enough in your job, or you’ve outgrown it and decide that you need to find a new position.
      6. If you kept in touch with your network and branded yourself well, you can be much more nimble in changing jobs than if you start all over trying to brand yourself from scratch.
      7. Branding yourself effectively can take a couple of years of consistent work.  If you start from zero at the time you need a job, you’re a little behind the eight-ball.
      8. It’s also easier to brand yourself while you’re working based on what you’re currently doing rather than branding yourself based on what you used to do.
    3. So are there legitimate consultants and illegitimate consultants?
      1. I once heard an author tell a story about talking to his father about what he wanted to be when he grew up.  He told him he wanted to be a writer.
      2. His father told him, “If you want to be a writer, write.”  In other words, you can go to school and read all kinds of books and do everything you need to do to prepare for what you want to be.
      3. But you can’t really call yourself something until you actually start doing it.
      4. The same goes for consulting.  You can print up business cards and create a website touting your capabilities as a consultant.  But you really can’t put Independent Consultant on your resume until you’ve actually done some consulting.
      5. So with that in mind, I’d say yes.  There are illegitimate consultants that are that in name only.  They may have all of the credentials to give businesses advice and provide a valuable service.  But if you haven’t found anyone that will pay for those services, you may not be a legitimate consultant.
      6. One caveat there.  I have known people during times of unemployment who have donated their time to charitable organizations.
      7. In these cases, they may have been legitimate consultants but not have had anyone pay for their services.
      8. I think in this case, you have to ask yourself if it was really legitimate consulting that provided value and gave you marketable experience that a future employer would benefit from.
      9. It’s great to brand yourself in the best light possible, you just need to be honest about it.
      10. And that might be the test of legitimate consulting.  Is it experience that added skills to your repertoire that will provide your future employee with value?
    4. How does a consultant establish legitimacy?
      1. It’s very similar to getting your foot in the door when you’re trying to get a job.  When you’re looking for a job, if you just send a resume to a company blindly, they don’t know you from Adam.
      2. There’s always a chance you have some experience that catches their eye, but that chance is pretty low. Even if you list experience that they’re looking for, since they don’t know anything about you, they’re not likely to just call and have you come in.
      3. As a consultant trying to sell to a client, if you just stop by or send them a folder of information, if they don’t know who the heck you are, there isn’t much reason for them to call and say come on in, we’ve been looking for you. They get that kind of unsolicited sales stuff almost every day and it just becomes noise.
      4. I spent five years outside of consulting and it was a good experience for me to see what it’s like on the other side of the desk.
      5. I got calls on an almost daily basis from people who found my name in the company’s directory and they wanted to sit down and talk to me about how they could help me.
      6. I got to a point where I started just ignoring the voice mails and emails and throwing away the packets I got in the mail.
      7. So just like getting a regular full-time job, you need two things to really improve your chances.
      8. First, you need to have proven experience.  Experience that you can convey to them is credible and will provide them with value.
      9. Secondly, you need to have contacts and references that can introduce you to the people in the company that make decisions.
      10. Hopefully, they can not only introduce you, but also vouch for your experience.  If the decision maker knows that someone they trust trusts you, you’re going to have a much better chance of getting in front of them and making the sale.
      11. And once you’ve gotten in to some clients and do a good enough job to show your value, they can help you by introducing you to businesses that they know and can be references for you.
      12. It’s very hard at the beginning, but if you can create some fans out of some clients, they’ll start helping you out to make it a little easier.
    5. You mentioned that more people should be consultants.  What do you mean by that?
      1. Well, I understand that consulting is not for everybody.  But I do think people should act more like consultants.
      2. Consultants are always looking for their next gig before they finish their current one.  If they oversell, they can hire more staff and ramp them up.  But if you wait until your project is done, you’re going to have long periods of unbillable time.
      3. People who don’t want to go into consulting and just work full-time for a company need to understand that it’s not likely to be a lifetime thing.
      4. As I said, I don’t necessarily advocate that you start looking for a new job as soon as you start a new one, but always keeping your feelers out and being aware of the job opportunities will get you ahead of the game.
      5. Whenever you finish a project or develop a new skill in your current job, it doesn’t hurt to update your resume with that.  I’ve always tried to keep my resume up to date.  Every couple of months I take a look at my resume and see if there is anything that I could add to it that would make me more marketable.
      6. I’m very happy with the job I have today and I’m not looking.  But you never know when an opportunity could come along that’s just too good to ignore.
      7. And you never know when your firm may cut people back and you end up on the street. So just being aware and ready to jump into job search mode will have you on the ready if you’re ever forced out there against your will.
    6. Do you see a future where everyone is essentially independent?
      1. Yes, I think that could happen.  We could get to a day where we only have entrepreneurs.  People who start their own companies and hire only contractors or temporary people with firms for project-based work.
      2. Companies may decide they don’t want full-time hires anymore.  Their needs for skills change so often that it doesn’t make sense.
      3. In this type of world, everyone will be responsible for their own training and sales.  We’ll all purchase our own health insurance and we’ll all go from company to company applying our skills to their current project.
      4. Then we’ll move on to the next project at the next company.
      5. I’m not necessarily advocating this or saying it’s any form of utopia.  I’m just saying that this could happen. In a world like that, people who keep their skills up to date and marketable and are best at selling themselves will be the most successful.
      6. Like I said, I’m not saying this is what I want to happen; I’m really saying that everyone should be prepared for this to happen.  Because it’s already sort of happening on a small scale.
      7. Companies are moving more to consultants than full-time hires.  If you’re looking for a job and ignore any opportunities for contracting, you’re closing doors on yourself.
    7. Any final thoughts on everyone being a consultant these days?
      1. I’ve talked to many people who claim they’re not interested in consulting.  They prefer the security of having an employer and knowing they have a job every day.
      2. That’s a false sense of security.  We’ve evolved to a point where full-time jobs are not much more secure than consulting positions, especially if companies move more towards consultants.
      3. Whether you like consulting or not, you may have that lifestyle forced upon you.

    Recommended Books:

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    Starting up on your own: How to succeed as an independent consultant or freelance


    Next week’s topic: Arrogance or Confidence.  How attitude affects you success.

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