Five things I wish I knew before I started consulting
I originally wrote this post for the Impact Consulting Hub as a collaboration between ICHub and The Channels Network. Find the original post here.
I almost accidentally fell into consulting. It’s the classic story of ‘girl graduates from master’s programme, doesn’t know what to do with her life, takes the first opportunity she can get.’ And that opportunity happened to be a consultancy.
Fast forward two years: I’ve somehow managed to do quite well as a consultant. I have had a steady flow of clients on a variety of social impact projects, have been extremely lucky to stay employed during two years of a global pandemic, and have learned an immense amount about what I call ‘social impact communications’ (or #SocialImpactComms for short) in a short time.
However, the path hasn’t been easy. At all. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, probably broke several tax laws, and I’ve gotten in way over my head with work at times because I underestimated how long things would take me.
So, I wanted to share some lessons I’ve learned over the last two years for other early-career professionals who are interested in getting into the world of consulting.
If you have any questions or would like to have a virtual coffee chat to talk about all things comms and consulting, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn!
5 things I wish I knew before I started consulting
1. There are a lot of great resources out there!
Since I started consulting quite spontaneously and without much preparation, I didn’t have time to seek out resources beforehand. The Impact Consulting Hub is one such source of knowledge I would have greatly benefited from early on. Loksan and Molly run ICHub, a network for impact consultants, and create amazing resources such as blog posts, podcasts, downloads, and guides to help consultants at all stages of their consulting careers.
Joining a network such as ICHub also offered me access to literally hundreds of other consultants doing work in similar fields, so being able to reach out to them with my questions was invaluable.
2. Taxes, and… um… financial stuff
OK, clearly this is still something I don’t have a full grasp of, but I’ve learned so much (through trial-and-error) more than I knew two years ago!
There are a million-and-one different rules and laws related to setting yourself up as a freelancer or independent consultant depending on where you’re based or what kind of work you want to do.
I really wish I knew ahead of time what I was getting myself into, and what kind of administrative work it would require from me. From creating invoices to paying taxes to figuring out what software you’ll use… I kind of miss having a job that would take care of these things for me!
If you’re new to the world of freelancing and independent consulting, and you’re worried about all these administrative tasks, definitely take a look at IC-Hub’s ‘The "BORING STUFF": Administrative requirements of freelancing (in the social impact space)’ blog post.
3. Independent consulting can be lonely
This is probably something that a lot of people can relate to after so much remote working during the pandemic. However, as a consultant who works remotely all the time, one thing I’ve learned is that it gets quite lonely!
While I love the flexibility and freedom to pack up my bags and go work in another country for a month if I want to, I also miss those water cooler chats and Friday evening happy hours with colleagues.
There is one solution that I’d love to consider in the future: some independent consultants who are based in the same city can rent a co-working space together. I believe that having the option of leaving my apartment and heading to the office, and having a group of people to socialise with, can really help with my mental health.
Similarly, creating The Channels Network with Faith has also been incredibly beneficial to know that I’m surrounded by a network of supportive people.
4. Career prospects after consulting can be uncertain
Last year, I found a really cool job listing and decided to apply for it just to see what would happen. I was definitely qualified for the job, and I thought my application was quite competitive.
However, I received feedback that, because my two years of consulting experience included several part-time roles simultaneously, they couldn’t count that experience and it basically counted for nothing. In the end, I didn’t meet their minimum level of requirements.
At first, that feedback stung, and I got quite worried that the path I had chosen as a career would end up putting me behind my peers who took more traditional routes after graduating. Now, I feel more confident that I took the ‘road less taken,’ and I stand by the decisions I’ve made. I know that I have worked my butt off, done the best job I could do, and helped a lot of people and organisations along the way. If one organisation doesn’t see the value in a nontraditional career experience, then I don’t think I’d enjoy working for them anyway.
5. Consulting isn’t easy, but I’m a lot more capable than I thought
One of the most important things I’ve learned is, as cliche as it sounds, that I really can do anything I set my mind to.
Consulting isn’t easy. There’s the worry of finding a new client while you’re wrapping up a project. The grind of writing proposals and searching for opportunities can get exhausting. I became quite burnt out last year, and had to step back from several personal and volunteering projects. And the imposter syndrome? There’s a massive amount of cool projects I never got in touch with and calls for proposals I never submitted because I thought there would be someone better than me applying instead.
But somehow, two years later, I’m incredibly proud of the difficulties I’ve overcome in this line of work, the things I accomplished by working hard, and the impact I’ve helped create.