From Employee to Consultant: 20 Years Later

To only say that I survived would be an understatement! Today, I celebrate TWENTY YEARS as a consultant – who knew I would make it to this point in the self-employment journey. This article pays homage to what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and what I learned along the way. Just maybe I will inspire you to take the same leap I did…so jump in the car and let me take you on my journey.

Self-Employment: The Day I Lost All Fear

To say I was cut out for self-employment would diminish all the heavy loads I’ve carried over the years. The day I quit my job and decided that I could earn a living getting others to hire me was probably the only day I haven’t had fear in my life. There’s always a point where you stop giving a shit and just do what you have to do.

Don’t think this well-thought-out decision didn’t have consequences and risk, let me set up my world in 1999. My younger son was 5 years old, and my older son was 14. I was the higher-income breadwinner who decided to quit an executive level position – reality looking back, I was single-handedly juggling all the balls in the air. Yes, I had a baby on my hip, no job, no paycheck, no clients, and a lofty idea that I could build a business. How could this possibly go wrong? From the rearview mirror, I had to be nuts to make the decision – smh!

In the back of my mind, I am always reminded that my dad, a man with limited education, build a successful construction company in New York City during the bellows of 1960’s desegregation. I can’t forget that I grew up in the era of women burning their bra and proclaiming self-empowerment…maybe that’s where I got my moxie, but it could be that I got sick and tired of having underqualified humans controlling my destiny.

The honesty factor, when I made the decision to quit – I hated my boss, she probably hated me too; I couldn’t stand the people I worked with – I’m sure they felt the same way about me, and I had gone up the broken ladder as far as I could go – so I jumped off. My hope then, don’t break your legs on the way down.

The overarching fact, shortly after my mother died in 1997, the unsettled feeling that I couldn’t work for idiots any longer set in. Losing her help me realize that life has only opportunities and you must take them when they present themselves. The lesson, some days I wish I could remember, that I am seeking an opportunity.

The Reality of Being a Consultant – Resilience Is Your Best Friend

I laugh out loud when I see these Facebook ads promising that you will be a wealthy consultant in a matter of minutes; if you drink their secret sauce and buy their canned products. My impression none of the people selling “Be a Consultant, Coach, Speaker” have actually earned a dime doing it – what they’ve done instead is figured out a way to tap into your desire for quick success and pray on you to buy their shit. (Oh, golly I am cussing again – see twenty years makes you even more fearless.)

The reality for every consultant and self-employed individual, we live in a valley – the valley between two mountains. On Mountain A, is the prospective client, and the proposal that we just sent out and on Mountain B, is the bold client who decided to hire us. In between, we live in the valley – for some, it’s a valley of despair, for others is a valley of diligent work.

For me, my “valley time” offers introspection and time to build my products, impact my industry, and execute my plan. Yes, I’ve had many moments of “valley despair” – many weeks of attempting to collect past due invoices from clients, and my worst loss was a huge insurance carrier that went into receivership owing my company $48,000. I survived, made payroll, and everyone is alive to tell the tale. In the rearview mirror, this looks much sexier than it really was.

Figure Out What You’re Worth

The critical element that I often forget, your worthy of being paid what you’re worth. Months ago I had a client ask me to justify my renewal fee – after writing a comprehensive stewardship report showing the over $13 Million of actual bottom-line savings and the 3000 percent fee to savings ratio, they abruptly non-renewed the contract. It’s still raw and not yet in the rearview mirror, but that was the moment when I said – “F..k it pay me” pay the fee or get off my phone!

After twenty years I don’t have to justify my worthiness, I am the best at what I do! That is the fearless place consultants have to get to. Because if clients think you are needy or needing them more than you really do, (and you need them for everything, but they need you too or they wouldn’t have called), then you risk selling your services not based on the value you bring, but on the value, they perceive you offer. In that scenario, you never win.

Eternal Gratitude For Amazing Clients

When it comes to clients, I’ve never felt that I won some and lost some – even if you never hire me I want to make an impact that you will never forget! Every client offers me the ability to hone my skills and demonstrate my role as a trusted advisor. When you forget the impact of your role, you forget your “Consultancy Why.” I live by the motto, “I am the ‘anti-consultant’  I’m not here to tell you what to do, I’m here to do it with you until you get it right – then it’s time for me to walk away so you can be empowered to fly on your own.” (But be reassured that I’m only a phone call away.)

Over the years, I’ve had amazing clients, who’ve become lifelong friends – they’ve trusted me to have their back, and I’ve delivered one million times what I promised. What I learned early on, you only have your reputation – guard it as if your life depended on it. Clients are amazing when you figure out who your ideal clients are – until then you are shooting in the dark. Your ideal client will be just that, ideal. They will check all the boxes, value you as much as you appreciate them, and they will validate the work you do. The lesson I learned, the most euphoric feelings occur when clients are happy and grateful that I eliminated their stressors.

Build Your Inner Circle

There is no scarcity in this world, be generous with your time – give back to your industry and those who look up to you. Everyone who’s ever encountered me knows that I share generously, I will answer questions, share my knowledge, volunteer within my industry, and I will be there to have your back. Because at the end of the day what I know – we are all in this game together.

I guard my inner-circle and only a few people get in. I eliminate distractors, detractors, and demons…okay, that’s a little much, but here’s the lesson – the people who started the journey with you don’t have to end it with you. With surgical precision, I’ve eliminated best friends, key allies, and trusted humans, from my life because I realized they didn’t have my back. The lesson, longevity comes with creating a protective inner-circle of people who can talk you down from the ledge and help you climb the ladder – sometimes doing both at the same time.

The One Lesson I’m Still Trying to Learn?

How to celebrate my wins and acknowledge my success. It is so easy to check the boxes and keep it moving because as the Enjoli Commercial back in the 1980s said – I am a woman, I can bring home the bacon…while using the eight-hour perfume meant for the twenty-four-hour woman. But truthfully, I haven’t celebrated my wins – at least not for long periods. I’ve written three books, ran a successful company, raised two amazing sons, held down a household, and I’ve lasted longer than most expected me to. I’ve loved, lost loves, and survived. The lesson I’m still learning, don’t be so hard on yourself because you’re doing okay.

Regrets – There Are Many, but Self-Employment Isn’t One of Them.

If you’re contemplating self-employment – there’s no time like today. (Please don’t quit without a parachute – crap that’s another article.) My message to you, get started because you don’t want to look back in twenty years and regret that you didn’t at least try.

You cannot phone in the work required to be a successful consultant, there’s no secret sauce, there is no kit to help you be you…you just have to do it. Don’t drink anyone’s secret sauce – be ferocious in learning your craft, building your brand, and diligently learn how to market your company. I started a blog when it wasn’t popular. I recorded a podcast when people didn’t even know what that was. I built my reputation and business by being a speaker when others were hanging on to their full-time job. I was building a business before being a consultant was the “in thing” to do….all of my success doesn’t stop me from learning every day. My biggest lesson, I will never stay stuck where I started, because life gives me daily opportunities to learn and move beyond my comfort zone.

My Muses and Motivation to Succeed

Funny story, when I quit my job, I purchased a roll of stamps which still sits in my office, the intent was, if this self-employed gig didn’t work out I would at least have 100 stamps to mail out my resume. Technology has rendered the stamp obsolete and the journey has never required me to use them, but it was funny to find the roll of stamps a few months ago as a reminder of my resolve to succeed.

I am most thankful for my sons – Phillip and Tony who survived envelope stuffing, licking stamps, and sorting mail. Both of my sons followed my path to self-employment…The lesson, your children are the ones you’re inspiring not your fans on social media.  

So, here’s a toast to the next twelve years…then I will let go of the steering wheel, hand you the keys, and go outside to see the world…until then stay in the car with me and enjoy the ride.

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