My first experience consulting in my career was back in 2005 during what I've affectionately named, “The Summer of Rachel.” I was part of a large downsizing at my company, so I was about to enjoy three months of severance that fell squarely in the summer months before my September wedding (I know—this was quite a coup). At the same time, the new leadership at the company that laid me off needed my expertise to pull off a website refresh. They hired me back as a consultant to lead the project, and I negotiated a schedule that was in synch with wedding planning, interviewing for a new role, and enjoying everything The Summer of Rachel had to offer (which was mostly tooling around my neighborhood in pink pumas and sundresses).
As someone who put in significant hours throughout my career to that point (most of them on-site), it was quite a moment to learn I could work in the office 3 days a week, name a competitive hourly rate, and continue to make a significant impact on the business—delivering quality work. I breathed in freedom, control, and gratitude for an in-demand expertise I cultivated over years of hard work. Throughout that summer, I felt truly alive in my career. While severance plus consulting rate had something to do with that—it wasn’t everything. I LOVED having agency over my choices, my schedule, and my priorities. That feeling prompted me to work even harder and more efficiently during my work hours AND get more done in my personal life. There were no idle hours for the sake of face time and that helped me realize my personal style of integrating life and work for maximum efficiency.
While I did move on to another full-time role after that summer, I was certain I would be back to consulting life again in my career when the time was right. This experiment was proof that it was a possibility for me, giving me the flexibility and control needed if priorities shifted yet again. And that is just how it happened. When my older daughter was 6 months old, I left my full-time role and consulted for the next 8 years. I flexed between three and four days a week for the duration of those years, led a department, built a social media presence and several premium digital experiences, and most importantly, developed relationships that make me beyond proud of what I accomplished.
There were times in the first few years I felt I put my career on hold or I was envious of friends who had what I often called, “The Big Job.” But somehow I knew, this was the right thing for me at the time. I felt like I could succeed in both work and family—and make a good living in less time.
I see a growing number of women in my coaching practice who are on the consulting path as a way to stand by their career non-negotiables which are often things like freedom, control, flexibility, autonomy, creativity, or authenticity. And the trend with my clients matches up with what’s happening across the country. According to projections in the Freelancing in America Survey, released by the Freelancers Union and the freelance platform Upwork, “50.9% of the U.S. population will be freelancing by 2027 if a current uptick in freelancing continues at its current pace.”
For those who are considering consulting as a possible path, I work with them to think through the following:
What’s your vision for how you want your career to look? What are your non-negotiables for your next chapter? More on this in my post, The Career Contract You Make With Yourself.
What services could you offer that exist within the intersection of your passions and strengths?
What’s your financial picture? What do you need to bring in from your consultancy to contribute to your bottom line? Bring your accountant into this conversation for guidance!
Who in your network might be interested in these services? Make a LONG list of people to get you started.
How do you feel about hustling and selling your services? Consulting takes a resilience and relative comfort with rejection. If selling is already a strength or it’s something you’re committed to learning—this could be an option for you.
Where will you source your healthcare?
How can you experiment with taking on consulting projects while you’re still at a 9-5? This can sound daunting, but a time of experimentation with this new kind of life could be the very thing you need to figure out if it’s for you.
After doing your due diligence to figure out if this is a viable option for you, you may decide you can get your non-negotiables from a full-time gig. If so, I encourage you to have compassion for yourself. Be grateful that you’ve figured out what you truly want and be open to the package in which it shows up.
For those of you who decided to consult at one point, thought it would be temporary, and 5 or 10 years later realized this isn’t a passing interest or need, this is THE thing you want to do, there’s always time to make your consultancy more of a thing or a business. I know this, because I’ve helped many of you do just that! You can polish up your website, have an elevator pitch ready to go, hone in on your “Why” for doing what you do, turn up the volume on your marketing—and go do the work you want to do, on your own terms.