I’m frequently the dissenter in my crowd when people are talking about work because I LOVE my job. As a marketing consultant for EM Marketing, I really look forward to the tasks I do each day. I am proud of the work that I do. I get to use my skills and help companies do valuable endeavors. And I am happy with what I am paid.
Because of my contrarian yet happy answers, I’m frequently asked, “How did you become a consultant?” And “Could I do it?”
The “How” was straightforward. Working in marketing at a big company, I had been dissatisfied with the lack of meaning and results in my work. A friend (here’s looking at you, Betsy!) said, “I love you Suzy, but you can’t call me up to complain about work unless you are willing to at least try consulting.” Her colleague needed a consultant, and I was hired the day of my interview. (Disclaimer: results may not be typical!)
The “Could You/Should You Do It” is a more interesting question.
Should You Do Consulting?
Giving it some thought, I’ve come up with five questions that you need to be able to answer to feel like this would be a satisfying and profitable way to run your work life.
1. Do You Have A Craft?
Some say marketing itself is a craft. They would not be wrong. For me, the word implies something that you are really passionate about. My particular areas, content strategy and Hubspot/inbound marketing are things that I truly nerd out on. (And it’s great to have nerd pals — looking at you Tara, Christine, and Karen!) I brush up on it daily (Hubspot’s blogs are so great) and keep up to date on my training and new methods because I want to, not because I have to.
Even though the best marketers are brilliant generalists, having a craft/specialty where you can go deep is most likely to get you noticed and hired.
I consider myself a Digital Artisan with Hubspot, GoogleAdwords, and QuickBooks Online being the brushes I paint with. (Note: there are 10K projects out there looking for people with these skills. Just saying.) This year, my to-do list includes getting certified in Marketo and Salesforce. Training is usually free, online, and comes with certificates you can feature on Linked In. You usually have to do one or two pro bono projects to put experience matching the certificate on your profile. (Oh, now that I think of it, I did a pro-bono Shopify website setup for my friend’s shop… maybe that should go on my to-do list.)
2. Do You Get Excited About New Projects?
If you love working on something where you can settle in and really own a program, that’s great. But that is not the life of a consultant. (Now, that’s actually a great trait of a contractor — which is a different matter, see the last paragraph of this blog for more on that.)
As a consultant, you will be called upon to start something new, fix something that’s not working correctly, or own something that needs immediate expertise and attention.
You have to be OK with always being on a learning curve. And you have to be excited enough that you don’t get bogged down if you make a mistake (you will make mistakes!). Each time you come into a project, you’re given the gift to be able to either define or at least help articulate success. This view of victory on each project is one of my favorite parts of consulting.
3. Do You Love Money?
I’m serious. Consulting can pay really well. The way I look at it, it’s the company’s way of thanking me. The best companies thank employees with group outings, investments in their careers, benefits (health insurance and vacations), and of course, with pay raises.
In consulting, you get money.
For the most part, you get to decide how much they should pay you. Of course, it has to be grounded in reality i.e., comparable with what other consultants would cost. There may be seasons where you will choose to work for something less than what you are worth but (see Question #1) if you have a craft, you can command the going rate for that.
4. Do You Love Networking?
For a lot of people, this can be a hurdle. A wonderful agency like EM Marketing can expose you to opportunities.
Going to events and being willing to talk about what you do (or, listen to what people with potential projects want to talk about) is a key skill to cultivate the most options.
For me, it fills the social gap that happy hours with my team at my company used to fill. And nerdy user groups are great ways to meet people from other companies that are likely looking for your skill. (Drinks are usually free!)
For me, because I have adorable children, it can be really hard to motivate myself to go out in the after-work hours for these things, so my tactic is to drag a friend along. (Which is why it’s good to have nerd friends… thank you, Tara for dragging me to MarTech, I never would have gone by myself!) That way, you can network and catch up with a friend.
One other note about networking: on those occasions when you’re not working or not working enough, do make lunch and coffee dates with previous colleagues or bosses that loved you. (If someone calls for a margarita date, IMHO they are not as effective as lunch or coffee!) These individuals welcome the chance to keep in touch and will be motivated to keep an eye out for you. It’s also fun to hear what problems they are working on and what new tools and techniques they are trying.
5. Do You Have Your Own Social Support Network?
This is related to Question #4 but slightly different. When I worked at a big company, the social aspect was very important to me.
The people you spend time with every day are a key part of your life satisfaction.
On the upside, consultants don’t have to go to a lot of meetings and training. The downside is that you are left out of meetings and training (and in many cases, team lunches and holiday parties).
At one company where I consulted, I wasn’t allowed to eat the free fruit or drink the brewed Peets coffee! They would try (usually without success) to deny me access to the team’s wikis because of the ‘x’ in my email address. See Question #3 — money can cheer you up. See Question #4 — networking with other consultants is fun and worth doing, but know that your daily social life is different in consulting than working for a company.
Quick Addendum: What’s The Difference Between Contracting And Consulting?
Others may define this differently, but here’s how I see it. Consultants are brought in to do a project. As much as they will love you, you will train a full-time employee on the ins and outs and be done after several months.
Contractors are brought in to fill a role (in many cases, it would be preferred to have an employee do it but perhaps the team doesn’t have headcount or can’t find a good candidate). Another key difference is contractors typically work for one company at any given time, but as a consultant, you may have multiple clients at the same time. Depending on the situation, many contractors work on-site, but with consulting you may also have the flexibility to work from home.
Summary of the Pros and Cons of Consulting
- Need to keep constantly learning new skills
- Need to take care of own insurance
- Can be lonely
- Need to be constantly learning new skills
(Yes, that last one goes both ways!)
Do I recommend it? Yes, Betsy, I do. Thanks for getting me in the game! And thanks to EM Marketing for helping make it fun.
If you’d like more examples from the life of contracting or want to hear my podcast, “Zen and the Art of Content Marketing” drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!