What to Expect and What to Say
Support from your family is critical to your success as an independent consultant. Without it, you won’t be able to focus on building your business during the first critical year. I would go as far as to say that without the support of your immediate family, you should reconsider any move into independent consulting.
Big change comes with stress. A transition from a monthly paycheck to self-employment is a big change. You need to be honest, understanding and straightforward. The good news is that a lot of the concerns about instability, long hours and constant travel are unfounded when it comes to consulting.
Your success in explaining your plan to become a consultant to your family hinges on having a plan. You need to understand the details of how you're going to build a thriving consulting business that will give you freedom and control over your work/life balance and income.
Based on my own personal experience starting a consulting business, and helping many other new consultants get their feet on the ground, I have compiled a list of the likely concerns you will encounter and the best ways to alleviate them. I hope this helps.
1. Independent consulting is unstable — no job security
Anyone from a partner, child or parent can have concerns about your job security. Even if they are financially independent, they won’t want to see you struggling.
People very commonly believe that self-employment is unstable employment. You don’t have a steady paycheck to rely on, each engagement has limited time-horizons and it’s your responsibility to go out and find the next one.
Are you ready to become an independent consultant?
Are you still assessing your own readiness to become a consultant who works independently? Our guide here can help you figure out if you are ready for the big career move forward.
Although this concern is understandable, it ignores some key facts about traditional employment, and underestimates the stability that can be achieved in the long-run building your own business. You should expect job security to come up, and be prepared to explain your short and long term plan to overcome this challenge and create a more stable future.
What to do:
The first thing to do is to listen. You cannot dismiss this concern, and there is truth around the fact that getting established as a consultant entails a little risk. It is possible that there will be weeks or even a month during your first year as a consultant where you won’t have any paid engagements. You need to acknowledge this and set out your plan to get your first few paid engagements — this ties directly into the next point on this list.
Your family’s concern about job security, however, is probably longer-term. They think you are entering a never-ending race against time to secure your next engagement and prevent the entire business falling down around you. The real way to address this is head on — talking about the ways in which consulting is a path towards stability, and maybe pointing out that your current position isn’t as stable as it might seem. We tend to think that our engagements are stable because they provide a “steady paycheck,” but it’s only steady for as long as you work for them, something which is often out of your control.
If a company has to downsize, there’s a change in management or one of your superiors simply wants you out of the company, then all that ‘job security’ talk goes out of the window. Consulting is actually about building a business that you ‘own’ and ‘control’ — taking your future into your own hands. It’ll be your ability to build a large pool of clients that’ll ensure long-term job security, not the passing whims of company bosses (who will always have the company’s main interests at heart, not yours).
2. Are you sure you know enough people to make this work?
Your career could be a common point of discussion around the dinner table and family gatherings. However, it’s likely that your partner, parents or other close relatives don’t know the ins and outs of how you make a living. Even more likely, you haven’t talked to them about every network connection you have made over the last decade.
What’s very likely is for family members to question your ability to support a consulting business based on your professional network. The question might not be phrased that way, but they will ask if you really know enough people to get your consulting business off the ground. Your family will worry about ‘network failure’. To be honest, you may have had this concern early on when considering the move into consulting, but you know that it’ll be all good if you plan ahead and prepare…
What to do:
You can calm these fears by putting in the groundwork before you leave your current job, and then talk in detail about how the network you’ve established is going to help you hit the ground running. Even if your family is unconcerned, it is a good idea to have an idea of where your first engagement will come from, and how you plan on growing your network. Now, you just need to explain that plan.
There are multiple actions you can take while you’re still in regular employment. For instance, a great first thing to do before becoming a consultant is to build your contacts list, spring your LinkedIn profile into life and get in touch with the people you know best for advice. Understanding the best practices when it comes to networking will also help you immeasurably, both while you have your job and when you’re transitioning to consultancy.
3. Consulting is going to take over your life — you won't have any time for us
Aside from worrying about the financial implications of transitioning to consultancy, your family might fear that it’ll harm another commodity, indeed your most important one: time. Your parents, children or partner all might worry that you’re about to enter into an endless cycle of twelve hour days, even at the weekend.
What to do:
It’s true that starting any business is going to involve a lot of time and effort, and it would be wrong to say anything different. In the early days, there could be long hours, and you need to acknowledge this concern.
However, that won’t be the norm. Getting any project up and running takes time and effort, no matter what it is. You’re trying to build a business! It’s important to remember — and remind your family — that it will be your business. Ultimately, the goal, in fact one of the main reasons you’re doing this in the first place, is to have greater control of your life. Your goal is to have a better work/life balance, more time for holidays and all-around more time with the family.
You’ll also have the freedom to determine which engagements you take. If it takes too much time, you can turn it down — no-one forces you to take engagements when you’re a consultant, which is part of the charm. Plus, just how much time do you currently have when you’re working your regular job, anyway?!
4. Consultants travel all of the time
Your family might be concerned that you’re going to spend far too many days and weeks working overseas once you become a consultant. They’ll be happier that you stay in your regular employment if that’s the case.
What to do:
And indeed, that would be fair enough, if it was true! You can begin by explaining that consultants don’t travel all of the time. But more than that, even if the option is there, it’s not like you’d be forced onto the plane: you’re the one who decides the jobs you take.
The option for travelling should even be encouraged — there could be the option of a working holiday abroad, with the family. Suddenly they won’t be so against the idea….
5. Will consulting actually pay the bills?
For all the questions of time and travel and how much you work and so on, there’ll be a burning question from your family: will your new path actually pay the bills? Even if you aren’t the sole breadwinner, or you’re speaking with family members who are not dependent on you for their well-being, anyone who cares about you will be concerned that you are able to continue to contribute and maintain your standard of living.
What to do:
Don’t say, “we’ll just have to wait and see.” Do say, “yes, it will pay the bills.” There’s a whole wealth of information that you can share with your family which will reassure them and then some. In the UK, premium consulting day-rates are around £2,000-£5,000 and can be significantly more for people with specific knowledge and experience.
How much you charge depends on your skills and clients. The important thing to understand, however, is that you have the potential to make more money consulting than you do now. By becoming a consultant, you will be putting your skills to use in situations where they are desperately needed, rather than effectively sitting on retainer with a standard employment contract. Your ability to move around to where you are needed most means you will be able to charge more.
You’re the one who sets your pricing structure, and how much work you take on. Before you begin, you’ll set a benchmark for how much you want to earn a year, and then you’ll set up a system — based on how much you want to work/how much you charge per hour — that’ll make it a reality.
You can also look at where you’ll be able to take on projects that’ll maximise your skillset, which in turn will allow you to charge more. If your family are not happy to take your word for it, then showing them a plan of action will help keep their fears at bay!
Be honest, be transparent and share your plans
Your family’s concerns will mostly match those that you had when first thinking about how to become a consultant. They will want to know how you plan on securing engagements, build job security and grow your business. They want to know how these commitments will impact your home life and how much money you will be able to make — all of the common concerns of new independent consultants.
Ultimately, you need answers to all of these questions in order to build a successful consulting business in the first place. Then, you just need to turn around and explain the answers to those who care about you. If you do that, most likely, they will support your decision. Making the career change into consulting is a genuinely good decision for many professionals. Just make sure you can explain that accurately.