How to be single: everything you need to know about freelance strategy consulting

How to be single: everything you need to know about freelance strategy consulting

Ruby Yeats 20.07.2017

Disruption. Innovation. Flexibility. Do I have your attention now?

We throw these buzzwords around routinely, but in terms of Australia’s workforce, there is one emerging context in which they inarguably apply. 

Australia’s workforce is undergoing one of its most drastic transformations in recent history - and for once I’m not talking the robot revolution. A recent study by UpWork found that 32% of working age Australians completed at least one freelance project in 2015 - and the vast majority of these professionals did so by choice, rather than as a function of unemployment or other external motivator.

So what does this mean for the traditional career consultant? Are the days of slogging through promotion cycles, building business case for promotion, and eventually emerging a victorious, well-resourced, but exhausted consulting partner behind us? 

According to CPA’s recent Future of Work Insight Series, maybe so. 

Working in the recruitment industry offers incomparable insights into trends and commonalities in the market, and here we’ve hit a big one. Historically, junior consultants were faced with just two choices in terms of future career trajectory - stay with the firm, or move over to the “dark side” of internal strategy - but now the opportunity to freelance and take on shorter term strategic projects is snowballing in popularity.

The benefits of going solo

It’s easy to see why so many jump on board. Be your own boss. Choose your own hours. Work from your bedroom, your “coffice”, your local pub (note: probably try and get through the bulk of the analysis and report writing before you reward yourself with a stiff drink). Junior strategists, so accustomed to existing at the beck and call of the ever so slightly more senior colleague, will rejoice in this newfound freedom. 

So, too, does the choice extend to project work. Not a fan of FMCG? Don’t engage with Coles and Woolies. Never been passionate about FS? Steer clear of the Big Banks and the key Life Insurance players. Most importantly, hunt down the pieces of work which excite you, utilise your industry experience, and allow you to demonstrate your impeccable strategy skills. 

Some people may consider it crude to talk dollars, but we in recruitment are not such people. So, here it is: when you freelance, the money is great. As in, work 50% of the year, get paid 150% of the salary. That’s a slight exaggeration, but the principle is sound - higher risk, higher reward.

The downside(s)

As any good consultant will know, there are always tradeoffs. No sunshine without rain, no ups without downs, no cost reduction without a few unhappy ex-employees. And it’s no different when it comes to freelance consulting.

1. The problem: The lack of job security. Yes, you can secure a lucrative daily rate and generate some serious cash flow, but what about when the pipeline dries up? Uncertainty as to where the next gig is coming from can wreck havoc with your mental health (and your mortgage!)
The solution: This comes down to good business planning, and even better willpower - you must resist the temptation of living to your new lofty means, and instead squirrell away a hefty portion of that paycheck for a rainy day (or, in continuation of our weather related analogy, a metaphorical drought).

2. The problem: Freelance consultants don’t have access to arguably the consulting firm’s most valuable resource - its people! No brains to pick, no war stories to learn from, no expert, Yoda-esque guidance from the top. 
The solution: Younger consultants taking the plunge are encouraged to maintain relationships with past colleagues, and network as broadly as possible. Carefully select one mentor, stay in regular contact, and your learning and development will continue regardless of allegiance to any one particular firm.

3. The problem: Business Development. Plague of freelancer and “traditional” employee alike, is your new worst nightmare! Winning the project in the first place is at least half the battle, and without the fancy pitch documents and infinitely wise senior partner, it’s much more of an uphill one.
The solution: Network, network, network! If you’re lucky (/intelligent) enough to have earned an MBA, your alumni class list is your new best friend. Countless deals have been closed because both sides attended INSEAD, studied at UNSW, played for the Balmain Dockers 2nd Grade AFL side… You get the picture. Keep your finger on the pulse of acquaintances who may be in a position to hire talented contractors like you, and don’t be afraid to reach out directly!

How to get into independent consulting

Aha! I hear you say. This is the part where you plug your agency!
And to a certain extent, yes. We have seen a marked increase in contract positions available in the year to date, and we can certainly assist in your quest to secure your next short-term gig. Partnering with a well regarded and well connected recruiter will help you locate roles that will not just pay the bills, but aid in your professional development and potentially segue into a volume of positions in future.

If Morgan McKinley doesn’t have anything which aligns, your next best bet is to hit the job boards. LinkedIn has aggressively improved functionality of late, adding features which allow you to filter and display only contract positions. SEEK.com has similar capabilities.

Finally, I can’t stress how important your network can be! Think outside the box - could your old consulting firm benefit from a few extra hands on a majorly oversold project? Keep abreast of what’s in the media, and you will get a clear sense of where your skillset is most marketable.

To discuss the freelance market, the permanent market, or to talk about how you can continue striving towards your career goals, please reach out to me on the details below.

 

Ruby Yeats's picture
Associate Consultant | Strategy Recruitment
ryeats@morganmckinley.com.au