September 28, 2013

So you wanna be a Consultant, eh? (Part 2)

Making The Mental Leap

Part 1: Why Contract Consulting?
Part 2: Making The Mental Leap
Part 3: The Most Important Rule To Follow

Working as a Contract Consultant requires a very different mindset than working as a FTE (Full-Time Employee).

In a traditional FTE arrangement, your days are structured, someone is telling you what to do, where to be, and when to work. As a Contract Consultant, things are quite unstructured. You are typically being brought into a project because of your expertise and experience. So there isn't anyone to defer to if you run into problems or if you're venturing into an area you've not worked in before. Oftentimes, you're it - you're "the guy" who is directing your area of the project and you don't have a manager to constantly specify how things are to be done.  This is a concern I hear about all the time from people who are considering contract work - "What if I have to figure something out that I don't have direct experience with?"

Let me assure you - if you're at a point in your life where you're considering doing contract consulting, you're probably smart enough to solve most problems that come your way, and find information about things you know nothing about!

Making the leap from a traditional FTE arrangement into the world of Contract Consulting seems quite daunting.

And honestly? It IS daunting!

Our education system and current FTE work structure descended from the Industrial Revolution… And so we've all been conditioned to follow a factory-style structured work day. Someone is telling us when to work, what to do, how to do it, and that there is only one right answer to a problem. One of the wonderful things about getting into Contract Consulting from a personal growth perspective is that it forces you to "deprogram" what you've been conditioned to believe when it comes to how much power and choice you have in your own life and how capable you really are.
For example:

  1. With most problems, there are many different possible viable solutions. There is no single right answer. You'll need to get over your fear of "getting the wrong answer". This isn't school, or a full-time job. Use your mind, look at all the different variables of a problem, and then choose what you think is the best solution to the problem. Unless you are a complete idiot and screw up horribly, no one's going to yell at you because you didn't choose the answer they wanted you to choose. Your client hired you as a consultant because your expertise and experience are the reason they are deferring decision-making to you. Own it.
  2. It's OK to leave early if you hit a mental wall and aren't being productive any more. It's fine, really. As long as you're getting done what you need to get done and have a good, trust-based relationship with your client, it's best for everyone to do this. It wastes your time and your client's money if you work many hours when you're not able to be productive. Give yourself permission to leave early every once in a while if you really need it!
  3. You don't have to go through the humiliating and frustrating "Annual Performance Review" process anymore as a Contract Consultant. I really believe that annual performance reviews are really a way for someone to justify not paying you what you're worth. If you're being told year after year that your hard work "just wasn't good enough this year", you may start to internalize this idea that your work really is poor. And so you work harder and harder to meet a goal that seems to always be just out of reach… And at your next performance review, just when the carrot is within reach, it's conveniently moved just out of reach from you again. As a Contract Consultant, if your work sucks, your clients will let you know, directly or indirectly. And if you continue to suck, you won't get any more work. But chances are, you're a lot more competent than your annual performance review would have you believe. Trust me on this one.
  4. You are a lot smarter, capable, and autonomous than you ever thought you were. Once you wean yourself off of the traditional FTE structure, you begin to see that you have a lot more choice in your life than you ever realized. And you start to believe in yourself and see that you are capable of a lot more than you've ever been able to give yourself credit for. This may sound a bit dramatic, but a FTE job over the long-term can give you a mild case of Stockholm Syndrome. You start to believe that you need your employer to look after you, and you can't imagine how you would live without them. But it really is possible - your life experience to date just may not have shown you any other way of living.
If you're in a traditional full-time job now and want to jump into the world of Contract Consulting, it is daunting indeed. But - the rewards are likely worth the risk!

I want to get into some of the nuts and bolts of actually making the jump... But before getting into that, there's one cardinal rule in life and work that I really believe is important to understand first.

I'll explain this rule in the next post.