Are you ready to freelance? Part I in the Training Entrepreneurs Series

We are fortunate in the field of training and development to have the option of working either within an organization or for ourselves as either internal or external consultants. Many enter the field with the notion of one day transitioning to an independent practice, while others prefer the security of working for someone else. How do you know if you are ready to hang out your shingle? Entrepreneurial success consists of three essential components: timing, niche, and expertise.

Timing refers to where you are in your life, your career, and your motivation. Although there will likely never be a perfect time to start a business, many external consultants strike out on their own during a period of transition: job loss, early retirement, education completion, or changes in a family situation. Life transitions can serve as the impetus for change and maximizing the motivational value of a transition can provide the necessary “push” to start your own business.

Although there are consultants, who offer a broad array of services, the trend today is to carve out a niche or specialization that is in demand. Technology offers many opportunities for consultants who are skilled in E-Learning design, virtual training, mobile training, and virtual reality. Opportunity also lies in more traditional areas. Training in customer service, sales, leadership, and safety are solid standbys that never go out of style. Others focus on a specific aspect of training design, like evaluation, or specialize in a particular field, like medicine or hospitality. A thorough examination of your interests and skills can guide you in identifying your niche.

Finally, consultants must be experts in their fields, bringing their knowledge, skills, and abilities to their clients. Consultants who transition from an established career are in high demand because they have demonstrated their expertise. Unless you have a highly developed skill set or lots of moxie, a business start-up with little prior experience is a challenge. If you are wondering if you are ready to take your talents on the road, take the brief Entrepreneurial Readiness Survey (URL below in Reference).

Reference

Entrepreneurial Readiness Survey: https://www.forbes.com/sites/larrymyler/2012/09/19/want-to-be-an-entrepreneur-take-this-test-to-see-if-youre-ready/#32319c334f7a

Questions for Discussion

  1. Have you considered a business start-up in training or another field? Why or why not?
  2. What are the rewards or benefits of working as an independent consultant? What are the negative aspects?

 

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18 comments

  • Maryam Alebraheem

    Amazing artical. Covers really beneficial aspects when it comes to organization skills and how to increase and apply those skills in an efficient way.

  • I enjoy reading the article. I find it is very helpful to learn about how to improve organization skills.

  • Portia Daniels

    Professor Iverson,

    Thank you very much for writing this blog as the idea of becoming an external consultant is appealing to me. I’d like to specialize in organizational development and leadership. I’ve always had a desire to have my own but I need to build my confidence to get started. I want to become the best version of myself and have the freedom to use my creativity, authenticity, experience and expertise to serve others without being put in a box and I think entrepreneurship will allow me to do that.

    A negative that I can see with becoming an independent consultant is that involve more risk and I think it requires a greater level of investment to build. The rewards are great and so is the sacrifice that is required. Additionally, I found the entrepreneurial quiz to be a useful tool as it helped to clarify different areas that I need to work on so they don’t become a hindrance in making my goal a reality.

    Portia

  • Great Tips for those entering the field.

    As it relates to the questions presented -Have you considered a business start-up in training or another field? Why or why not?
    What are the rewards or benefits of working as an independent consultant? What are the negative aspects?- As someone new joining this industry, it’s best to gain all the knowledge and experience before considering a business startup. Ultimately, a business startup is the way to go. That way, one would have the opportunity of being their own boss, working when they one, determining how much income they would like to earn every day because as a business owner, you wake up everyday broke or with the goal to make more money.

  • This was an interesting article, especially since I’m starting up a side business of my own. While my business is not in the T&D field yet (I’m pretty new to the program), my short-term goal is to get my feet wet and supplement my current income with skills I already possess. My long-term goal is to be able to quit my 9-5 and work for myself. During this time I hope to get experience in the T&D field so that I can gain experience and credibility.

  • Part of the reason I am considering changing my career into one within the T&D field is how many different types of roles one may choose to explore as well as the ability to potentially consult in the future.

    It’s hard for me to say at this point in my career transition if I am going to consider branching out on my own, however I have a feeling the answer is eventually going to be yes. I’m not really a risk taker and am quite pragmatic, however as I get to know myself better as I get older, starting my own company has really started to look appealing to me for numerous reasons. I have been working for someone else for almost 15 years now and by now I know my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the work place. One of my strengths is my ability to work autonomously as well as being self-motivated. I also like taking charge and controlling my own day-to-day so these are all qualities that I think are going to serve me well when starting my own business someday. However, I do not have any experience yet in this field, so I think the first step would be to first get the right experience. I’d prefer to work for a mid-size company, who values a work-life balance where I can take on a leadership role or work for a consulting firm like McKinsey (probably someone smaller) to gain relevant experience and potentially get exposure to a wide array of clients.

    I think at this place my life the rewards are going to outweigh the negative aspects. The main negatives I can see working on your own is first having to do “other jobs” such as sales and accounting, which really aren’t my favorite types of jobs to perform. You need to be your own sales person to attract clients and your own accountant to keep your business afloat. You also may not know at first what your average in flow of income would be. I think it may be wise to start consulting PT “on the side” while you are still working FT, and slowly grow your business until you can take the leap. I’m pretty pragmatic, so this type of strategy appeals to me.

    The rewards are numerous: your own boss, unlimited potential income, flexible schedule, unlimited PTO, recognition, ability to do exactly what you want to do with your career with no limits. It’s pretty empowering if you keep thinking about it.

  • I am glad that I found this article at the time of my desire to launch my own freelance consulting and instructional design services. I feel that the benefit to this entrepreneurial venture will allow me to build a strong portfolio to show potential clients and employers. The disadvantage or rather challenge of freelancing is the ability of attracting clientele and marketing your services. This challenge is inherent in any business start up and can be overcome with effort and creativity.

    • Karolyn Rubin (Szymanski)

      This blog is near and dear to my heart. I went from the comforts of the corporate world, purchasing an established business (and selling it) to the contemplation stage of considering a start-up TD consulting business. I subsequently opened a start-up TD consulting company, and subsequently another one in years to follow. I’m now back in the corporate world and still managing my consulting businesses.
      The transition for opening my consulting companies was a result of selling a former business. After taking a short hiatus and after months of pure boredom, I decided to follow my passion of helping clients solve programs through training and organization development interventions and solutions. The transition in starting a TD and OD consulting business was easy and seamless. I understood how to run a business, I was a self-starter and motivated in growing a business (again) and goal oriented and driven to succeed.
      There are many rewards and challenges to business ownership, especially in the TD and OD consulting field. Let’s talk about just a few challenges. First, you are selling intangible services-the future outcome after you have helped them solve their problem. You are selling your customers on the idea that you, as their consultant can solve their problems. But to do so, you are also asking them to make a financial purchasing decision on paying for a portion if not all your services before they can measure the outcome of the desired results. That is a difficult sale, but one that is not impossible. Second, if you are a solo TD or OD consultant without staff or sub-contractors, if you are selling and marketing your services (trade shows, industry events, speaking engagements, cold calling and prospecting), then you are not working a client project. Conversely, same scenario, if you are working a client project, then you are not selling or marketing your services. If you are managing staff or sub-contractors, well, that in and of itself has a list of pros and cons to managing people and processes. Know that your cash flow may not always being consistent. Receivables grow because your client is late (or never pays you) and payables are out of control (because the revenue generated is less than your expenses). And the sales cycle of entering into an agreement with a new client or project may be longer than you initially forecasted, thus impacting your cash flow and paycheck.
      The rewards of business ownership are you are literally in control of your destiny. Hours can be long or short, allows for work/life balance, you determine the earning potential, and if achieving your measurements of success can lead you toward bigger and better opportunities in the future.
      While working for yourself certainly has its rewards and benefits, ask yourself the questions, “what will my work/life balance look like?” and “how many hours do I really want to work?” When I was managing a client project during the day, my evening hours consisted of answering emails, targeting customer markets to generate new business, and then finishing any hard and fast deadlines on my client projects. It makes for a very long day, but again, the rewards will outweigh the challenges long-term.
      Are you still excited about running your own business? Here’s another set of questions to ask yourself. “Do I know anything about running a business?”. Most would answer, “I know nothing, other than I want to work for myself.” You must know the three basic components of running any business (TD consulting companies included). Have a business plan, understand your cash flow, and execute on your business goals.
      Still interested in starting your own consulting business? Now ask yourself “how much money do I need to make versus how much money do I want to make?” Start by filling out a balance sheet listing your assets and liabilities. Then estimate how much out of pockets costs you’ll need for your initial investment (business license, business insurance, health and life insurance, staffing sub-contractors, marketing, office supplies, professional services such as an accountant, business attorney, and keeping yourself financially afloat while you are generating new business that will lead to your first paycheck).
      Know your niche. Who is your target market? What is the sales conversion cycle? How do I charge my client for my services? What lead generation resources should I use to create a fast start with new business opportunities and how to I retain my clients for future business? What components do I need to include in my service level agreement (that is an absolute must have document)?
      Being a business owner is about embracing risk, leaving the norms and comfort (regular paycheck for starters) that a traditional job working for someone provides you, and making an investment not only financially (lots of risk) into the business, but investing in yourself (self-belief versus self-doubt).
      Okay, I’m assuming you are still in the mindset of full speed ahead “I’m doing this!”. Terrific! Then why not, give it a try? Good luck on your future endeavors!

  • I found this article interesting and quite timely. I have considered opening my own training focused business, and as the article mentions, it is about timing. The positive is being your own boss, and the downside constantly seeking the next opportunity. I wonder how much more of a time commitment being independent is than working internal to an organization.

  • The opportunity to work freelance in training and development is a long-term goal of mine. I would appreciate some feedback on a classic question, if I don’t experience who will hire me and without a job, how will I gain experience? It’s important to show off completed projects and results on a website and in a portfolio for new potential clients, right? It can feel like a “chicken and the egg” situation. After earning an MATD, I am confident I will have the credentials to demonstrate knowledge in the science of evaluation and the next part will be for me to identify which industry I specifically have an edge in, but combining the two will be a first for me. Where can you get your start? My initial ideas are to volunteer with organizations like non-profits or smaller groups that have limited budget. Additionally, I know the ATD community is a great start for networking but is it a place for newbies too?

    • Hello Kaelyn…

      Feel free to reach me on LinkedIn. I am happy to share my experience with ATD and ATD Chicago Chapter. I have been a member since before I graduated in 2013 with my MATD. I have also served as a board member. Plus, I have not been directly in T&D

  • This article was interesting to read and offers good information for those that desire to be their own boss and be in control of their future and earnings. I have always admired those that take the chance to pursue their own business. I have thought about opening my own business in a field other than training but I have not pursued it. As your blog mentions timing is one essential component. It is important that consultants be experts in their field with an established career. As we get more experience and prove we have the knowlege, skills and experience others will respect our recommendations and pay for it.

  • I think it is important that consultants are experts in the field because when you go into an organization to help, they expect you to be there for them and to have the remedy fix. This is not always the case of having the perfect fix but having the tools and the process to get them there is a vast improvement for what they had before. I think when you are the expert, this includes changing our consulting language to a language that the organization understands and can go along with. People like to have concrete information, facts and language that they can relate to and communicate back so really creating a sense of relatedness with the organization is important before going out and working on your own.

  • I thought the survey link included in this post was very helpful because it can serve as both a self-assessment, as well as a tool for action planning on the competencies that most often translate to success as an entrepreneur. I especially like the linkage between your current day job and what you hope to do in the future. I am planning to open an independent consulting firm focused on leadership competency and change management within organizations. As with all things, there are rewards and challenges. What’s rewarding is the opportunity to work independently, setting the strategy and vision for how you approach your work, develop approaches and models that benefit organizations across industries, flexibility in how work is approach and building many relationships to become a part of your network. Challenges include securing funding, maintaining a consistent clientele base and not having company offered benefits. As a development towards opening an independent business, it can be beneficial for a future entrepreneur to begin free-lancing work to gain experience and a following with a clientele base while working for a larger organization or working for a consulting firm as a compromise.

  • A very timely article; encouraging and realistic! Two points you made were the biggest take-aways for me. The first one is certainly your encouragement to evaluate your disposition or readiness to take the leap into entrepreneurship. It’s attractive but certainly not for everyone, as I have learned firsthand. A potential solution is to align with a company that offers complementary services, such that your expertise can be “sold” as part of a package. While I have been in corporate training for over a decade, I was once able to offer training and coaching services through a search firm specializing in identifying sales people. We found that often the “problem” could be solved by training existing sales staff instead of hiring new ones. The second point I found particularly helpful was emphasizing that the trend today is carving out a niche that is in high demand. Again, while I once thought that offering a variety of capabilities would lead to greater earnings, I am confident now that if I were to strike out again focusing on keeping the saw sharp in one specialty would lead to the greatest outcomes for all.

  • Hello Kathleen,

    Hope you are well. I always enjoy reading your articles. Thank you again for your outstanding professorship while I was in the Training and Development program.

    I started a consulting business just after my early retirement four years ago and then went back to Corporate America. I am out again and working on promoting my consulting business, Managagement Advocate and Training Associates, matc.sllc.train@gmail.com.

    I completed the online assessment and it appears my answers align with what it takes to be an independent consultant. As you may recall, my expertise is in Leadership, Managagement, and Talent Development. That said, it has been challenging aquiring clients.

    Please offer any advice or support and if I can help anyone reading this, let me know.

    All the best,

    Marty, M.A.T.D.

    • HI Marty, it’s good to hear from you. I’m glad you are staying active in the field. As far as suggestions for clients, I suggest attending association meeting to network with others in our industry, getting involved in business oriented community organizations, putting together a portfolio including references from past clients and work samples, and in general, continuing to put yourself out there (like you did here in this post!). Having a digital presence is also important (LinkedIn) is also important. One book I recommend is Michael Hyatt’s Platform: Get noticed in a noisy world. One other option is to offer your services to consulting companies that specialize in training as you can build your resume by subcontracting.

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