The Joy and Sorrow of a Freelance Consultant

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Author: Uri Goldberg
Published: May 03, 2012
2 comments

Working as a consultant can provide a unique insight to the life of person with a bipolar disorder. We can be extremely excited while we watch our clients faces as we explain them how we solved a painful problem they were dealing with. And we can reach the deepest lows as when we find data is missing and the client’s team is less then supportive of our efforts. Surprisingly there is little in between. We move from extreme bliss and excitement to deep frustration.

Recently I have left the management consultant firm that was my home for four years to become a freelance consultant. In this transition, I found that the lack of support that a large firm provides entails challenges I was unprepared for; making the gaps from excitement to frustration ever wider. Reflecting on my new found challenges, I was able identify four that I’m constantly struggling to address:

Social Support:

A lot of time we find ourselves stranded on a deserted island filled solely with members of our client. This leaves us alone without the social support from our peers. We have little people we can bounce ideas with, get feedback on, or simply gossip.

Getting the Client Team to Support You:

As an outsider we have little means to get people to help us help them. Although this is true for any engagement team, the resources and prestige that are brought to a client provides a natural attraction and incentive to your work. This 'attraction and incentive' are lost once you go solo. As such getting a client's team, which has little incentives to help you, requires developing a new type of leadership skills.

Steeping the learning curve:

The ability to further develop your skills requires a good supporting network with couches and mentors. As a freelance you need to find these people outside your immediate sphere of interaction.

Innovate:

One of the things that always gets’ me excited is innovation. I love to try out new things, look at a problem from different angles and talk with people from different discipline and together come with new ideas. However, being a freelance consultant means you don’t have a huge bandwidth that will allow you to try new things, new methods and explore additional fields. Innovation is always cool but not on the client’s dime.

Dealing with these issues, I have found that writing has been very helpful. I’m hoping to use Consulting Café as a place of exchange to discuss and share ways to deal with professional challenges.

What challenges have been faced with as an independent consultant? Let me know in the comments.

If you want to read further about the issues and problems that surround being an 'outsider' in the consulting industry, click here.

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About the author:

Uri Goldberg is a McKinsey alumnus who has turned into a freelance consultant. He is currently helping companies and governments tackle issues surrounding strategy, organization and performance. He also writes in the The Art of Clarity, his blog.

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2 comments

Comment
Joanna Casga (May 09, 2012 09:41 am)

Short-thought: There are likely multitudes of different perceptions of and actual experiences with Independent Consulting. Over several years, many other Independent Consultants I know (including me) have had 180 degree different consulting experiences than the ones articulated in the article: we had rich and wonderful collegiality, support, "space" for great creativity, brainstorming / sharing of ideas, and so forth.

My own challenge over the past 1.5-plus years has been the near complete evaporation of consulting projects. However, over the time of various consulting with ministries, social services programs, and the like, it was Glorious indeed, and the Interdisciplinary Team and I were in the Center of our Gifts and Callings (mine having to do with translating technical statistical information & findings into understandable English, running Focus Groups, editing, teaching/training/seminar-ing (so to speak!) on Program Evaluation, Outputs/Outcomes definition & measurement, Logic Modeling, & Strategic Planning). It is indeed Heaven on Earth when one is sharing from the center of one's Gifts and Callings. May we all of us be fully used and drawn-on in these ways of fruitfulness and sharing.

Lukasz W (May 04, 2012 01:16 pm)

I have come to freelance consulting from a different angle - I used to work for medium & large ICT businesses so part of the problems you are struggling is less visible for me - ie. social support challenge.

Main joy for me is definitely independence and easy transition of the work to tangible results, wide range of new projects also is good.

Main challenges: acquiring customers and managing the portfolio - I am definitely not a sales person. Little space for innovation and trying new things is also a bit disappointing.


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