Author Topic: Seeking wisdom/reality check from consultants and independent contractors  (Read 2613 times)

rocklebock

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When I hit my FI number or get very close to it, my plan is to transition into part-time consulting work. I love my field and I'm great at it, but I also love independence and calling my own shots, and I hate office bullshit.

My current numbers have me about 7-10 years away from FI. Last fall, I decided to try looking for short-term consulting work now, because it could accelerate FI significantly. I also wanted a taste of what the work would actually be like - I knew I was idealizing it to some extent because of kvetching I hear from friends who consult in related fields.

Great news! Without trying very hard at all, I found three organizations who were enthusiastic about working with me. This surprised me - I assumed that courting clients would be like pulling teeth, because there's just not a lot of money flying around in the arts/culture sector, where most of my clients would be.

However, I'm already starting to question the initial attraction to consulting:

- Prospective Client 1, a well-established arts non-profit, invited me for a meeting, and told me immediately that they wanted me on board for a high-profile project. Awesome! They then ignored my follow-up questions and dropped off the face of the earth for four months, re-emerging with a grant proposal with my name attached to it, describing a project that was totally different from what we talked about. Oh, and could I sign and return it in the next hour, because the proposal is due this afternoon.(I did it, because what they were describing would actually be only a few hours of work on my part)

- Prospective Client 2, a shoe-string community organization, expressed strong interest in hiring me (as part of a team this time) for a "rescue" project they can't handle. However, they also asked us to respond to a bunch of follow-up questions that raised many red flags, indicating that they were not willing to give us the decision-making authority we needed to execute the project. And which also suggested they were unwilling to change the behavior that got them into such a pickle in the first place. We responded with a polite "our way or the highway" email and might remove ourselves from consideration.

Prospective Client 3 is just in the "we might need you soon" stage, so I'm not complaining about them yet.

So, my first impression is that consulting is just as loaded with pointless bullshit as 9-to-5 office work! Consultants and other independent contractors, I am seeking your wisdom - Is this part of a normal learning curve? Am I just waking up to the reality that consulting isn't the cakewalk it's cracked up to be? Do I just need to be assertive and selective? I get that I can't force clients do anything they don't want to do, but what are the best ways to mitigate indecisiveness and inconsistency?

FWIW, I've read several books on launching a consulting business, but I'll take other recommendations. One significant difference between my situation and what I typically see in case studies is that I can't work 100% remotely and independently. My expertise is in working with physical sites and objects, as well as management and personnel stuff.

ShortInSeattle

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Re: Seeking wisdom/reality check from consultants and independent contractors
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2014, 11:12:35 PM »
Your clients hire you because they need help, and this means that yes, you work with people who need help. Plenty of times they think they need X but they really need Y.  Some are flakes, and others are confused. A good consultant learns how to pass on crummy projects, meet the client where they are, and help them find the right approach for their goals.

You can't insist they be great up front, because if they were already great they wouldn't need you. Projects stall, and developing a new client can take a year or a day. Approvals can be slow.

Over time you get smart about picking good clients, but in the beginning you usually need to take what you can get. Clients can be difficult, but you always have the freedom to fire them or decline future work.

You've got to be assertive.

"So you want X, is that right?"

"Here is what i can do for you.... This is what I'd need you to do. Are you willing to do that?"

"It sounds like you want me to do Y. I don't think that is a good idea. Here's why..."

"What. I propose is...."

In short, you need to take the lead. They're the client, but you're the expert. Negotiate. Be flexible. If it's a bad fit, don't go after it. Never work with jerks, or at least charge them double. :)

Consulting is great, but it's not free from BS, politics, or difficult people.

irononmaiden

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Re: Seeking wisdom/reality check from consultants and independent contractors
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2014, 11:42:57 PM »
I've found two main benefits to freelancing: a wider variety of projects than I could get from one employer, and the ability to never work with people again if they dick me around.

Three, three main benefits to freelancing. I can also ignore most of the political crap.

Other than that, yep, it's still the same bullshit.

rocklebock

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Thanks, all of you. This is all super helpful and reassuring - especially the comments about knowing how to select clients and when to say no. One of the reasons I don't want to work 100% independently before I'm FI is that I'd pressure myself to work for awful clients just to make sure I could pay the bills. I don't really need the side income now, so I can afford to be selective already.

I definitely need to get better at telling people "You say you need X, but I think what you really need is Y," and "I can't do X unless you can commit to doing Y." I have some latent people-pleaser tendencies to work on.

I like the suggestions I've seen that at the beginning of every year, you rank your clients based on how much you like working with them. You look at the clients at the very bottom, and you either fire them, or you raise your rates for their projects high enough to move them further up the list.