How to Become a Consultant (596 words)
By Denny Hatch
It's rough out there. Dot-coms going under. Layoffs everywhere. Stock market's going south. What's a person to do?
All through the 1960s and early 1970s I worked for people who threatened to fire me if they caught me moonlighting. I was suitably scared and served as a non-moonlighting slave at slave's wages. (I earned $90 a week in 1960; in 1961 I was making $6,000 a year.)
If I had it to do again, I would moonlight up a storm—gain the extra experience and grab the extra money. More to the point, I would have fireproofed myself—had some income if I were ever to get fired. And I got fired a lot—nine jobs in my first 12 years of working! It makes no never mind whether it's called reorganization, elimination of a position, a lay-off or being fired. When you're outta work, you're outta work.
One week in 1976 my wife, Peggy, and I bought a new car on Wednesday, a new piano on Thursday, and I was fired on Friday. I had been working for companies all my life and despised the entire business. So I decided to become a freelancer.
I called Bob Teufel, then circulation director of a major publishing house and asked what he thought of the idea. Teufel kindly invited me for a drink and gave me two pieces of advice:
1. Always go first class. Clients and prospective clients like to do business with people who have an aura of success. Wear nice clothes, Teufel told me. Drive a nice car. Take clients to nice restaurants. When I told Peggy, she said, "I can live with that."
2. Do not over-promise. Never guarantee delivery of two or more jobs on the same day. Even out your workflow. Otherwise, you'll miss deadlines and wind up with ticked-off clients who will never use you again.
Here's some of my own advice:
3. Always sell when you are busiest. Many freelancers get so crazed with work that they do not take time to sell their services. Then suddenly one day all the projects are completed and nothing is in the hopper. A freelancer or consultant with nothing on the docket can go for weeks without work (and without a paycheck).
So what do I say to people these days about fireproofing themselves? Moonlight. Build a client base. Follow Teufel's two rules and my third one. What do I tell people contemplating going on their own? You need the following three qualities: You have to be good at what you do (which includes selling yourself and schmoozing clients and prospects). You have to be able to cope with terrible cash flow; consultants often are the last people to be paid. And you have to be comfortable operating outside the office environment, sans people, perks, expense account, health insurance and copiers.
You'll work harder than you ever worked in your life. But you'll make more money and have more fun than you ever dreamed possible. Best of all, if you get fired you're still working. The icing on the cake: You can fire a client you don't like. One of the happiest moments of my life was several years ago when I fired that same publisher and told its self-important, twenty-something product managers to take a hike.
Denny Hatch, consultant and freelance copywriter, founder of Who's Mailing What! (now Inside Direct Mail) and former editor of Target Marketing, is the author of "Method Marketing" and "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success." He can be reached at www.methodmarketing.com or email@example.com.