Managing the ebbs and flow of project work can seem difficult when you’re used to the security and regular income of full-time work. We caught up with Eli Diament, a former McKinsey Consultant to discuss how he balances winning and delivering work.
After a long career in management consulting, what was your main concern when deciding to leave the firm and work independently?
My biggest worry when leaving the firm was how much time I would need to spend looking for engagements. I was concerned that I'd have to invest so much effort into building a pipeline that I wouldn’t have enough time to actually deliver the work and therefore get paid. And of course, that made me worried about being able to make a career out of this type of work.
How do you balance winning and delivering work?
In reality, it’s actually quite easy. I find you’re not really doing one or the other, you’re usually doing both at the same time. For example, whilst working on a project, an opportunity to put in a proposal (often thanks to Expert360) or speak to a colleague about another seems to always present itself. The other thing is to be prepared for your schedule to go through peaks and troughs. Sometimes you’ll be really busy when a couple of clients will all of a sudden want proposals. And at other times, it can be quiet - you definitely have to be comfortable with a little bit more ambiguity than you would have with a firm. The flipside of peaks and troughs is more flexibility in your lifestyle.
Did you ever have issues finding project work?
I think it's all about the mindset in which you approach being independent. Occasionally I have returned from a trip and wanted to start work right away, but it ended up taking a couple of weeks to find the right engagement. At first, this was frustrating, but I’ve since gotten very comfortable and embraced the ebbs and flows of project work. The key for me is keeping busy in those few weeks when you’re not working. And luckily for me, that’s never been a problem - I'll do a personal project and spend the time wisely.
Has your job satisfaction changed since you became an independent consultant?
I think all my friends, my family and myself, would say that I'm definitely happier! I like to really work hard for 6 to 12 weeks and then have a break. For example, I’ve recently completed a project and now I'm holidaying in Italy. The independent consulting lifestyle really lends itself to that. I can focus on a topic for a client that is a top priority and then I can have a couple of weeks away, to see family and friends... And then I can go do it all again. I’ve appreciated the freedom and the ability to set my schedule for when I’m on and 100% focused - versus off.
Finally, what would you say to someone thinking of following in your footsteps?
- Don't be afraid to try it. Just because you try it doesn't mean you can't go back if it’s not for you. If you decide that the independent consulting approach is not for you, there will be plenty of firms out there that would be happy to take you on –in consulting or in-house.
- Don't get worried when things slow down, take advantage of those times and enjoy them. Things will likely speed back up again. I've now seen that in my seven to eight months, you definitely go through cycles and you even create your own cycles, so don't be afraid if things get slow and use those times to build your personal brand and network.
- Take the time to develop your own brand. When you’re an independent consultant, you use similar skills as well as leverage the experience you had in a firm, but you also have to ensure you focus on building your own reputation. It’s really important that in the back of your mind you have an "I can do it, I will do it, it must succeed" mindset – because it’s your reputation on the line. In the end, you must always remember that consulting is a client service industry.
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