The Employee as an Independent Consultant

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This post was updated from its original version, published on 8 July 2011.

I've been employed by the same multinational corporation for the past 27 years. About 15 years ago, I decided that I didn't like feeling like an employee, and decided to adopt the mindset of an independent consultant. Strictly speaking, I was and am still an employee. What changed was my mindset.

I decided to think and behave like an independent consultant while continuing to be an employee of the same corporation.

It's a nice arrangement. I treat my employer as if they were a client, my main client. With a couple of notable exceptions, they've given me steady work.

Since I see myself as an independent project management consultant (even though I am really an employee), I have to think about marketing. If I don't keep the pipeline full, business could dry up. I make sure people know who I am, what my capabilities are and that I stand ready to help them.

I do a lot of business development. I help people "on my own time" so they'll know what I can do for them should they have a need.

I get to know who the decision makers are, who holds the budgets and who has influence.

I keep myself sharp. Sometimes, my client/employer pays for my training and pays me when I take training. Sometimes they cover any travel expenses to take the training. Or, I may take training on my own time and expense to increase skills and my value proposition as an independent consultant.

I interact with others in my profession apart from my client/employer. I belong to a professional organization (PMI) and volunteer with them as a speaker and writer.

When I begin a new project, I approach it as a consultant, looking not only at how I can satisfy the immediate need, but also looking at the potential for follow-on work.

When people I deal with are unpleasant or difficult to work with, I remind myself that they are my client, and will be paying me for my work. It helps keep things in perspective.

I do the occasional "side job" for other clients, but only to the extent that it doesn't result in a conflict of interest.

I don't think I would have the courage to make the career switch to truly be "independent." At least not yet.

I have the utmost respect for those who really are independent. I understand that I don't face the same risks they do, which is why I have such respect for them. I've learned a lot from them and hope to learn more.

But this works for me and seems to combine the best of both worlds. I have the satisfaction of doing work for people who seek me out as a professional, and doing so at a level of risk that I find tolerable.

What do you think? Do you think working as an employee and behaving like a consultant would work for you? Why or why not?

See more posts from Jim.

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Posted by Jim De Piante on: July 08, 2011 02:46 PM | Permalink

Comments

Conrad Harrison
I remember in the early 1990's an American consultant visting Australia, suggested that employees should consider everyday as their last day. Got a lot of back flack in the news at the time. Simple phrase but not clear in meaning. His point was that, what you do today determines if you have a job tomorrow. Everyone should consider their customer/supplier relationships internal to an organisation, as well as those external. At any point in time may be either in role of customer or supplier: the role is not fixed. Also in terms of going fully independent you have to go beyond the profession. Whilst people are seeking you out on the basis of profession, then any one in the profession will do and can replace you. They have to be seeking you out: recognising your uniqueness. That added-value that only you can provide. Also acting as consultant as you say, also reduces any nasty surprises: such as more aware of where your work is coming from, and if there will be any in the future. Changing your behavior and priorities accordingly. My preference has generally been to consider every employee to be a small business operator: and what do they need to do to stay in business?

Natalya Sabga
Jim has put into words exceptionally well my reality for the past 25 months!

Short of feeling like a heretic or schizophrenic, I could not reconcile my two priorities - my employer/"client" projects and my own independent interests - until I read this article. I understand now that the two worlds - employee/consultant - can, indeed, co-exist harmoniously and without judgement.

Thank you, Jim.

Satish Seetharam
I truly agree with the statement made here on working as an Independent Consultant rather than think as an employee. Even me working for a Banking Domain Company for the last 17years understood the meaning after going through the article.

Every individual should work in the capacity of a independent consultant & should serve their clients at their utmost strengths. The role they do is not a fixed one.

Thanks, Satish.

Portia Sterns
I have been considering the idea of becoming an actual independent consultant, but much like the author I lack the nerve to assume all of the risk.

This article is encouraging in that one can have the mindset of an independent consultant and still be an employee. I agree with a subsequent article written by this same author which states that everyone has a brand.

I guess the two ideas compliment each other: being an employee with a brand is like being an independent entity selling a service to a client. I would like to keep reading to see if there is more advice on becoming an independent project consultant and whether some people are just too risk averse to make that move.

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