There is a saying that the best time to plant a shade tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now. The best time to launch a consulting business is when you are still employed. And if you are not employed then the second best time in now.
I used the side gig route. Some 8 years ago, it looked like my MNC career was going to involuntarily end, Well at least involuntarily on my part. My employer had no such concerns. In one of the many restructurings that most companies seem to have, my role had been pulled out of Asia and back to HQ. It seemed to me that the writing was on the wall. I was about sixty years old at the time, which is not the easiest age to find a new job. I decided I would become a part time or fractional CFO. As I said a couple of minutes ago, I felt I had some useful experience that would stand me in good stead. At about the same time I had been speaking at a CFO conference where I met a young lady who was running a business called the CFO Centre in Hong Kong. She gave me an introduction to Steve Settle who was launching the CFO Centre in Singapore. Steve had the excellent sense to take me on as one of his CFO Principals. For me the great opportunity presented by the CFO Centre is that it gives you some instant credibility. An international company feels you are good enough to represent them. So that is how I got started.
As this was a side gig I did tell my employer what I was planning to do and asked for their agreement to my plan. This use to be called moonlighting as many companies had employment contracts that prohibited third party work. I think this is much less common these days but do check your contract of employment. I also made sure there was never any conflict of interest between my full time and part time employment.
Wherever your skill set lies, be it marketing, sales, engineering there will be an organization that provides part time skills to companies that need help. Launching my consulting career with the CFO Centre has been a true asset. I have gained experience in a number of industries, help companies make progress and increased the skills of their in house finance team. My time with them is coming to an end as I am relocating to Vietnam. The disadvantage of this route, they take a big chunk of your earnings.
As I said I launched my consulting career as a side gig before my retirement while my full time employment paid the bills. If you are not fortunate enough to be able to follow that route do look for ways to establish credibility either by affiliating yourself with an organization such as the CFO Centre or getting your name out there by posting on LinkedIn, public speaking, writing blog posts etc. For more ideas listen to my podcasts discussing Dorie Clark’s book “Entrepreneurial You” Episode 45 of Season 8 Building Your Brand. would be a good place to start.
Since starting I have gained more clients via referrals and LinkedIn and I’ll share those experiences in another show.
How to stand out from the crowd
It is estimated that globally there are 53,000 coaches and 700,000 consultants. I recall chatting with a colleague we were both thinking about a post retirement consulting business. I figured I had some unique characteristics that would make me stand out. I had lived on three continents, worked on four, I had extensive M&A, business startup, and business turnaround experience. He said, “You know Jeremy, there are thousands of people out there who are just like you and me” And of course he was right. Just hanging out your shingle is not going to get it done.
Now it is time for me to pivot my business. My consulting income provides a cushion so I can take time to develop what may or may not turn out to be a breakthrough idea.
How will you find your breakthrough idea? Already within you have everything you need to develop your breakthrough idea. Your business experiences, life long learnings, passionate beliefs and values are unique. No one is the same as you. There maybe many like you but there is only one you. Teasing that breakthrough idea out of yourself, well that maybe a bit more challenging.
Give yourself Space to Think. David Allen, author of the well-recognized productivity guide, “Getting Things Done” says “You do not need time to have a good idea, you need space. And you cannot think appropriately if you do not have space in your head” You do not need to set aside hundreds of hours for long term thinking, but you do need to give yourself time to think. Agatha Christie is quoted as saying the best time for planning a book is when doing the dishes.
Dorie Clark puts it this way. “Breakthrough ideas do not come from the center. They come from the edges.” When two often apparently unrelated ideas suddenly connect. Mix your perspectives and experiences to enable you to see new ideas.
Steve Jobs had a similar perspective.
“If you’re gonna make connections which are innovative, you have to not have the same bag of experience as everyone else does.”
Grab that journal, exercise book or whatever you used to jot down the answers to the 10 questions you asked yourself during episode two, get yourself a coffee, tea or your favorite beverage and find sometime for sustained reflection to allow those breakthrough ideas to emerge.
Read, or listen to new books. If time is pressing consider subscribing to Soundview or Blinkist. I use both and they both have their good points. If money is of concern then I would recommend Blinkist. It can be fascinating to listen to several blinks by different authors on the same topic and hear sometimes quite contrasting views and conclusions.