It is no secret that I am currently funding my job search through consulting work. This has many career-management benefits, but today I’m going to write about the only one you probably care about – green stuff to make your rent and buy groceries. Here are 7 ways to get yourself started and turn your knowledge into real cash.
Figure out what you’re good at
It is a complete tragedy that so many people feel their skills aren’t valuable or marketable unless they have a full-time job. The truth about layoffs is that the work does not disappear, what disappears is the means to fund a full-time employee to do the work. So look, there is probably work somewhere in your area of expertise, and you probably could do it; it’s just that a company would rather have a variable cost (with no benefits to pay) than a fixed cost on its books.
You will argue with me, but I honestly think it is impossible that you (yes, YOU!) do not have any transferable skills you could sell through consulting services. I take that back; the one exception is if you have been sitting in a closet with a box over your head for the last few years. And that doesn’t apply to you if you read this blog.
So make a list of your achievements, review old versions of your resume, and ask your spouse, mentors, and friends what you are good at. Among those things, there will be a cross-functional set of skills that can be applied to any business. If you are still lost, consult a career coach, because you aren’t trying hard enough. Or crawl into a closet and put a box over your head – that works too! (Joking.)
Have something to say
The whole point of being a consultant is to… well, consult. That means you need the guts to think of innovative solutions. Have you ever started a sentence with, “If I were in charge, I would…” in reference to some idiotic decision your company was making?
Well, look, now you are in charge. You control your schedule and the type of work you do. Hate your current line of work? Guess what, you can consult about whatever you want now, provided you are honest about your abilities and are willing to work hard to show measurable results.
So the first step to having something to say is learning as much as you can about your craft, even if you’ve been doing it for a few years. Or if you’re already a bona-fide expert, practice telling people what they should be doing as if you were in charge. Not all of your ideas will be implemented, but you’ll be proud when some of them do.
Use the lingo
Sometimes, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Some might say this is faking it until you make it, but really it’s just managing semantics. Learn the right lingo and you will sound like a consultant in no time. Here are some primers:
- Master Consultant Speak
- Management Consulting Lingo
- Getting Drunk in First Class (Not safe for work, and possibly not relevant)
People make fun of “corporate speak” but if you don’t walk the talk you will never be convincing.
Start a blog
It will be no surprise to anyone who blogs when I say that I fell into consulting in part by accident because of an article I wrote about companies using social media. So many people emailed me about this piece that it did not take long to figure out I must know something others don’t. And, that’s when the dollar signs go off. To date, my blog has opened up so many opportunities to me that I’ve honestly lost count; but the best thing is the emails I get from readers that lead to real business opportunities.
So start a blog. You don’t need a topic, you just need to write about everything you are learning, and then help everyone you can with what you’ve learned. Good karma is real, so be genuine and opportunities won’t be able to pass your house without ringing the doorbell.
Start an umbrella company
Some people will say, “I can’t be a consultant. I don’t even have a website, much less a business!” What I did was start an LLC back in Sept. because I knew I was leaving my job soon. I then threw every half-baked money-making project I had under my new company’s umbrella and started pursuing them full-time to make them more profitable. I also focused on whatever achievements I had from those projects – those went on my resume.
Next, I looked at where I was missing skills I wanted, and started creating more achievements in those areas just from working on my own projects. That gave me something to talk about when trying to land new clients; those are the achievements I use to market myself every time I want more work.
If you don’t have money-making projects already, just start one. It’s not hard if you’re willing to invest the time and a couple bucks. And if you can’t come up with a project, offer to do a project at someone else’s company for free.
Network network network
This is the Holy Grail for everyone besides real estate agents. I recently met up with another blogger, Nisha Chittal, and she asked me how I was scoring all these gigs. The main reason is networking – while I meet some people who want help online, I also met an entrepreneur through my network at the University of Chicago (yes, MBA’s become entrepreneurs too).
Everyone has a network, so don’t say you don’t know anyone. You probably know more people than you think. I saw this opportunity to work with this company that was trying to expand in Chicago but was headquartered in Atlanta. I checked out the CEO’s profile on LinkedIn and it turned out we had a mutual contact who put me in touch.
There are also tons on free networking events that you are probably going to anyway because you are unemployed. Instead of telling everyone you’re looking for a job, tell them about a project you are working on (See the point above). You’d be surprised how many will reply, “Really? I know so and so who’s looking for someone to do that for his company!” I smile every time – this trick seriously works like a charm, and sounds so much more impressive than “I’m unemployed actually. And you?”
I mentioned I was actually doing the consulting thing to accomplish a larger goal – landing a full-time job. Well, this week I have two full-time job offers that I get to say “No” to.
I know what you’re thinking – is this girl insane?! Doesn’t she realize we’re in a recession?
I’m not worried though; on the contrary, the desire to reject these poorly conceived job offers is nearly insatiable, and the thought makes me giddy. Neither offer is a great option for me, and I have enough self-awareness to know exactly what I want.
Saying “No” sends a powerful message – you are declaring “hey- I’m not desperate, and I’m not putting up with your crap just because the economy looks bad.” The ego-trip that results is so intoxicating that it’s too bad you can’t bottle and sell it – there would be so many more happy people in the world.
You will not be a good consultant until you learn to say no. Your time does not magically expand to fit more clients – so choose your assignments wisely and take only the work that builds on your skills, lets you achieve results quickly, and makes your resume pop.
And ironically, good consulting is what gives you the ability to say no, because if you’re getting gigs, you won’t need to take the first job offer that comes your way.