The latest AFP Advisors Network webinar focused on the landscape of independent consulting. The quarterly webinar delved into the traits that make independent consultants successful, and how those traits might differentiate from the attributes that are typically associated with good, productive employees.
Consultants versus employees
Ideal employees should be fairly flexible and willing to cross-train in several different areas. While any good employee is ready and willing to learn, the onus is more on the company to train employees and get them up to speed with company objectives.
Independent consultants, in contrast, often have to be able to train themselves as opposed to learning from others, noted Lauri Putt Needleman, manager, advisor relations for the AFP Advisors Network. Additionally, “you might not be expected to ‘plug and play’ in different areas within the company—you’re usually going in for a specific project or to perform a specific function,” she said.
Moreover, ideal employees take direction well, while independent consultants are usually the ones setting the direction. “Maybe you’ll wait until you get to a certain point in your career before you go the independent consulting route, because you need to understand what it takes to be a leader,” said Putt Needleman. “You’re setting the direction as opposed to taking it from someone else, like a manager.”
The concept of a “team player” is also often different for independent consultants versus employees. Consultants may have to come in and lead teams, but they’re typically doing a lot more work on their own. Conversely, any employee knows that he or she can be put onto a small or large team at any time, often doing work that differs greatly from their day-to-day duties.
However, consultants should still be ready to take on unexpected responsibilities. “Flexibility is huge,” said Himashi Soriano, marketing manager for AFP. “You can go in, thinking that you’re going to be working on a specific project, but you’ll uncover something else that you need to do. So you have to make sure you stay flexible; you’ll have end goals, but those end goals may have to change.”
In fact, independent consultants often have to be even more flexible than employees because they are more or less at their clients’ beck and call. “You have to be available if a client needs to talk to you, if they want something done within a couple of days, etc.,” said Putt Needleman.
This is where time management really comes into play. Successful independent consultants have to manage their time effectively, because they are often working with multiple clients and they need to give all of them ample time. “You really have to have a good understanding of what you can actually do and be realistic in setting forth reasonable expectations,” said Soriano.
The right move?
In conversations with prospective consultants who are still working as full-time employees, Putt Needleman has observed some treasury and finance professionals doing consulting on the side to see if it is a good fit. “I was talking with one of our Advisors the other day. Her employer gave her permission to do consulting projects outside of the office,” she said. “That’s huge. We don’t see that a lot. But she has been able to take on projects that she can do on the evenings and on weekends.”
Still, there are many factors prospective consultants must consider if they choose to go this route. “A lot of folks haven’t given much thought to what it would take to carve out the time, or whether their employer would even allow them to do it. It also might pose a conflict of interest,” said Putt Needleman.
Motivation is key for both employees and independent consultants. However, independent consulting requires extra effort because you’re doing more than just completing a project. “When you’re an independent consultant, you’re your own boss,” said Putt Needleman. “So you need that self-motivation. You have to have the discipline to undertake all the activities that you need to. A lot of folks like doing the work but they don’t like doing all of the sales and marketing—going out there and talking about what they do and lining up that next engagement.”
Reflecting on her own experience working as an independent consultant, Putt Needleman added that treasury and finance professionals who thrive in a team environment might find that consulting is not the right fit. “A lot of the activities you’ll be doing—you’ll be doing them on your own,” she said. “It might not be as rewarding in some ways and it might be tougher to stay motivated. But if you find that you don’t mind doing your assignments independently, then it might be a good route for you to take.”
Next month, we will feature the first in a three-part series in which the AFP Advisors Network looks at the three core competencies of independent consulting. Learn more about the AFP Advisors Network here.
Traits of a Successful Independent Consultant
Source: MBO Partners