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What Happens When “It’s Not Working In Consulting”?

I’ve used a turn of phrase on the title of this newsletter to introduce a sensitive but vitally important subject: How do you know, with confidence, that the career of an independent consultant is not for you? After all, isn’t entrepreneurialism about perseverance, and doing the right things repeatedly, until you get the “breaks”?

Well, yes and no. I’ve mentored over 350 people, and about a third-say 120-have been brand new to the solo practitioner role. Of those 120, about a half-dozen, 5%, have determined after a serious effort of at least six months and often closer to a year, that their best course of action is to return to the corporate world, because they find themselves better suited for it.

Since the people who enter my Mentor Program are self-selecting and investing in a course of action to help ensure their success, I believe that the 5% figure is actually much higher for those entering independent consulting in general. I’d guess that at least 15% decide to return to corporate life (or actually leap at the first offer) and another 25% must find other work because they exhaust their resources before they create a strong enough cash flow from consulting work.

I’ve listed below some of the indicators that I’ve found signify that independent consulting may not be for you, despite passion, preparation, and planning.

You cannot reach out to strangers.
This is the marketing business. If you cannot make cold calls, cannot network with strangers, and refuse to use personal contacts to reach buyers whom you don’t personally know, then you’re simply too totally uncomfortable in a marketing capacity to ever bring in much business. You could get lucky with people coming to you, but inevitably, contacts eventually fade and you must bring in some new business on your own. If you do reach out and aren’t successful, that’s not so bad. This job is about rejection, and you merely might need some sharper skills. But if you metabolically can’t reach out at all, you’re in the wrong profession.

You are totally enmeshed in your methodology.
If all you can talk about is your “six step sales sequence” or “organic hiring approach,” you have problems. Consulting is about forming relationships and improving the client’s condition. The methodology, technology, and implementation are merely steps along that route, not ends in and of themselves (and certainly not value propositions). If you find that every conversation winds up with you exploring the depths of your methodology with a dazed listener, you’re probably better off working for someone else.

Your self-esteem can’t support the weight.
Many people who fail in the profession report that they couldn’t “push back” at a buyer, constantly compromised on fees and services, and weren’t able to stand up to a prospect’s confrontational questions. The first sale is always to yourself. If you think that you’re not as good as the buyer, then you’re absolutely correct. There is a lot of ego required in consulting. You don’t have to be an egomaniac, but you do need an ego that can stand up in a strong wind.

You procrastinate and nothing gets done.
There’s no excuse not to produce a press kit in two weeks, or to find a dozen prospects to research, or to network at a weekly event, or to create a web site. If you hop from one project to another with the result that none is completed, it’s neither a sign of sloth nor intellectual curiosity. It’s a lack of commitment to the overriding requirements to launch the business successfully. And those are the easy tasks-the tough ones are yet to come.

One final comment: If you don’t have a strong support infrastructure, you may well fail despite not falling victim to what’s above. You need the people closest to you to be positive and confident, and to provide solace in defeat and celebration in victory. If all they can say, however, is “The money is dwindling” or “I told you so,” then you might just fail through no direct fault of your own.