There are many obvious benefits of independent consulting (earning potential, flexibility, variety, and so on). But there are also plenty of not-so-obvious benefits – and they could make all the difference when choosing whether or not to become an independent consultant.
Improve Your Financial IQ
With every challenge, there is opportunity for learning and growth. And so it is with managing your finances as an independent consultant. Yes, you can earn very good money, but it’s also completely different to earning a regular salary (even if it’s the same amount).
Independent consulting income is often lumpy, and cash-flow can be unpredictable. You have to learn how to manage that, to get through the lean times, and not over-indulge during the good times. It’s a skill many don’t learn when they have only ever earned a “steady” pay, and will serve you well with your personal financial management too.
You will rarely be bored as an independent consultant. Moving from client to client, you are exposed to different industries, environments, people, and technologies all the time. Personally, this is one of my favourite things about freelancing. I love the variety and constant challenge to take what I know, and apply it in a new way or in a different context. And an added bonus: the more diverse your clients and projects, the better equipped you are to deal with anything new in the future.
Bypass the Corporate Ladder – Progress Your Career Faster
As an employee, unless you really shine and are clearly ahead of the pack, you have to slowly work yourself up the corporate ladder.
As an independent consultant however, you can forge your own path. Instead of moving up to a more senior role in an organisation, you can instead choose the right contract role to take you in the direction you want to go in. Want to change direction, or take on more responsibility? Then find the right contract role that fits your needs, or one that gets you a step closer.
The point is, you’re in control. You don’t have to work within the structure, rules, or timing of a company. You don’t have to wait for someone else to recognise your capabilities and potential (or be sabotaged by someone deliberately holding you back).
Constantly Add Value
Large companies and government departments are notorious for waste. Bureaucracy and endless unnecessary meetings result in a lot of wasted time, and it’s easy to feel like you haven’t achieved much after a week’s work.
Not so as an independent consultant. Your time is valuable – to you and your clients – and you’re able to just get on with it (most of the time anyway). I’ve been on both sides, and I know which one I prefer…
Get Paid For Your Output, Not Your Time
Fundamentally, traditional jobs pay you for your time. Sure, you can increase your hourly rate somewhat, but in the end you’re still expected to show up and trade your time for money (unless you’re in the C-suite, where bonuses and the like skew the numbers). And this system stems from the traditional Monday to Friday, 9-to-5 mentality borne of the industrial revolution (see more here). But given the shift to knowledge work, we should be focused on results and output, not time.
That’s where freelancing can help. Whilst it’s unlikely you’d be able to convince your employer to pay you for your output, it’s entirely possible for you to do so with your clients as an independent consultant. This has advantages for both you and your clients. You can set your fee according to the value you are delivering (regardless of the time it takes), and your clients get a fixed price with no surprises. It also means you will do the work as efficiently as possible – which is great for you and your clients.
Expand Your Network
As a freelance consultant, your network is especially important, and something you should be always be building and working on. Fortunately, as you move from client to client, you are exposed to many new and different companies – which is ideal for expanding your network. Not only will you connect with the people you’re directly working with, but you will usually see others on a regular basis too, and everyone is a potential new member of your network. This will happen naturally when you’re working with people for an amount of time, but you can also be proactive and make the most of the opportunity to build your network.
OK, so maybe ‘no politics’ is unrealistic, but there’s definitely a lot less politics to deal with as an independent consultant. As you’re not trying to climb the corporate ladder, it’s easy to not get involved in the politics and power plays that exist in most (if not all) organisations. And as you’re (usually) not seen as a threat to staff members, you don’t have to worry about people undermining you or trying to leap-frog you.
If you are struggling to decide whether or not to give independent consulting a try, I hope these additional benefits help your decision!