Hundreds - and possibility thousands - of columns, books, and blogs are devoted to the topic of leaving your job to start a business. The prevailing idea for corporate employees seems to be to start a consulting business of some type. And while self-employment is not for everyone, it is certainly is a worthwhile and wise choice for many people. I am concerned, however, at the tone of irreverence and downright disrespect that many of these publications take towards corporate America. There are two general themes to the negativity:
First, many of the "leave corporate America and become a consultant" advisers neglect to mention that when you are a consultant you need clients. And for most of us, our clients are corporations. It is nearly impossible to secure a client if you have an attitude of disrespect towards them (individually or organizationally). For the sake of making this point, I'll exaggerate a bit, but why would a business hire a consultant whose attitude is "I hate this place so much I ran screaming out of here, but I'd like to hang around a few hours a week and charge a high rate for it?"
Second, many "freedom" advocates will subtly imply that in corporate America you will die a slow death in a cube while the world races by around you. To the contrary, the most successful consultants I know are grateful for their corporate experience. They recognize that they received training in both functional skills and corporate processes, as well as a good understanding of the language and culture of the business world that makes them effective as consultants.
I would never begrudge anyone their dream to start their own business - how can I when it is the route I have chosen for myself, and it has been so good to me and my family? However, in light of some of the scary writings that are out there on this topic, I do feel compelled to offer two pieces of encouragement if you are planning to go the route of consulting:
- Make sure that you have identified your target client base, and that you have a good sense of respect for who they are, what their goals are, and what they do every day. Learn to admire what they achieve, and develop a desire to learn from them and to be a part of their success.
- Figure out what learnings from your current and past work experiences you are grateful for. Did someone pay for you to take a class? Did a boss teach you a particular process or skill that you can now teach others? Ask yourself if you have learned everything you can from your current and past corporate opportunities.
The two pillars of a great career are developing your skills and making a contribution. If you can find the ways that you have done this in your corporate job, and figure out how to do them both as a consultant, you will be much better prepared to navigate the transition from a corporate job to life as a self-employed consultant.