Having spent nearly a decade in the corporate world, I became independent in October 2016. It has been an amazing journey so far; with its ups and downs, it has certainly a steep learning curve. I have held several C-level, director and management consulting positions, from strategy, marketing, sales, branding, market research, all the way to strategic consulting, interim management, CEO advisory and coaching.
Being able to schedule your day as you wish is one of the biggest and most discernable changes you’ll experience when becoming your own boss.
Depending on your rhythm and business engagements, you may choose to get up at a completely different time, avoid the morning commute, and choose only the projects that really fit your skills, motivations and personality.
What is more, you can go to the gym, play tennis, learn a language or run errands at any time of the day, while most of your friends are stuck in the office.
Having said that, the hours will still be significant, especially in the beginning and while pitching for new projects. Multiple time zones only add to the challenge. Disconnecting becomes even more difficult as you cannot simply log-off at 6pm.
Discipline and time management are key to survive and thrive. Some people need the structure of office hours and the physical location where they perform work, whereas others feel at their best being a location-independent digital nomad. Again, up to you to decide which one is best for you – just don’t expect work to land on your lap or a colleague to take it off your back!
Another big change that I personally enjoy the most is the impact you have on the businesses that you’re helping. Working directly with CEOs and decision makers cuts the length between the idea and execution dramatically.
With most startups being agile these days, you can see the prototype, mock version or MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in a matter of days / weeks rather than months or years as it may be the case for big and complex organisational structures.
This speed of seeing your ideas, advice and recommendations forming in real life is, for me personally, the most gratifying aspect of being an independent consultant. Moving away from several levels of approvals and office politics not only saves a tremendous amount of time and energy, but also allows you to introduce disruptive innovation and manage change quickly and efficiently.
To be sure, being independent is not all rosy. Not having an umbrella of a big, reputable firm completely changes the business development game. Getting clients becomes the matter of survival and one needs to build a solid reputation and network in order to get a steady stream of clients and cash.
Furthermore, the risks of stumbling upon someone who wants to take advantage of you increases, as you don’t have big HR and legal teams behind you. It can be a scary world out there and you cannot just assume that your agreed paycheck will come regularly every X of the month, as you are used to in the corporate world.
What is more, cash flow management, taxes and budgeting become your responsibility. You may experience (and must accept) busy months with little or no cash coming in. You may spend a considerable amount of time pitching for projects and making proposals without any assurance of success.
This may be particularly scary for those with families and otherwise big financial obligations. The solution to these problems seems twofold to me:
1) Build a pipeline of trusted, long-term clients;
2) Diversify your income stream.
Easier said than done and I’ve been working hard on both fronts and I must say it’s not always easy.
I hope that the above 3 differences will help those of you who are pondering taking the leap of faith and becoming independent. Hopefully, they will also provide food for thought for those moving between one and the other. In any case, my intention is not to argue that one is better than the other. They are just different and we all have distinctive needs and aspirations.
What about your journey? Tell us in the comments below. Whether you’re in the corporate world or an entrepreneur, we want to hear from you!
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