In the era of offshoring, right-sizing, and business closings, the
question of whether it is time to hang out one's shingle is even
more compelling. We have read of countless people being pushed from
the corporate nest and declaring it the best thing that could have
happened to them. What about now? And what does it take to succeed?
Passion is a prerequisite, of course, but it's not all that stands
between being a successful consultant or not.
I spoke to Kathleen Razi, of Razi and Associates, who consults in
OD and training and development. Her work spans three continents
and she enjoys adjunct status at Baldwin Wallace College in their
graduate and undergraduate business division. She told me, "You
have to be a well-rounded business person to be successful - you do
everything on behalf of your own business, not just focus on your
Fran Scarlett, principal of Scarlett Ink Media, echoed similar
lessons learned in her fledging business. "I have found the seeds I
planted way back come to fruition much later. I was really
surprised that contacts would return a year or more after meeting
me for assistance. That was huge - something I did not expect when
I first started out."
The Harvard graduate left the corporate world to pursue her own
interests and felt it was a high-risk, high-yield decision, given
the fact that she supports a son. Even though Scarlett works in a
different field, her experience can apply to consultants of all
Finding your edge
A recently released books, Will Work from Home by Tory
Johnson, highlights the need for market analysis. Johnson's book
insists on you doing your homework. During the conversations for
this article, the need for a niche became a recurring theme. The
more you talk to people, the more convincing this argument becomes.
"People insist that being first in something is the real market
edge. Well, then be first!" states most of the literature. I can
give you an example of how this might work. "Being first" seems
overwhelming, especially when you analyze your market and know you
have competitors. It is all in the spin, however. You can be first
in something - first in your city or region, first man or first
woman, first trainer to develop X program, first OD person to be
conservative, first to introduce multi-media or blended curriculum
in your area. You get the idea.
As an example, when personal coaches were just starting in the
mid-1990s, I launched an e-coach business. My clients came from
eBay, as I meta-tagged my ads for those looking for Coach handbags.
"Isn't your future worth the price of a handbag?" my ads opened -
and they worked. I dismantled the business when technology could
not yet seamlessly deliver coaching as I imagined it, but there I
wasliterally the first e-coach that I could find anywhere on the
Internet. Much has changed since then, including the maturation of
that field. Still, I legitimately claim being the first e-coach on
What can you do?
Now, let's talk turkey. What about training, development, and
coaching? Here is where horizon thinking might come in handy. What
media will embellish these services? Where is HRD headed in
organizations? What roadblocks stand in the way of delivering these
services? As an example, recruitment and retention of skilled
personnel has become a challenge for most organizations. In a
global economy combined with a mobile society, recruitment and
retention have been added to many a training and development
function. Why? There is a natural link between bringing talent in
the door and keeping it. Further, millennials and Gen-Xers
genuinely value professional development, enough to make it a
deal-breaker when shopping for jobs. The literature supports these
findings, which is good news for the profession.
Talent management is no longer confined to Hollywood. So, is this
an area that you can manage better, smarter, differently than your
corporate cousins can do? Or have time to do? Might you be first in
your region? The lessons you learn on your job can sometimes fall
on unreceptive shoulders. Hey, it happens. However, nothing
prevents your from leveraging your knowledge and transferring it to
your own LLC. Look carefully at your agreements, so as not to
violate intellectual property. But if it is swirling in your head
and not a product you gave to your firm, it's yours (in all cases
see an attorney, please!). Again, the point is this: What occurs
during problem solving can be unique, exciting, the next door to
open in your career.
Questions to ask yourself
In summation, hanging out your own shingle is much like having a
child - there is never a perfect time. If you have the passion and
want to create something on your own terms, control your own
destiny, and develop something unique, chances are you are being
called. Here are some things you'd do well to consider:
- Do you have enough money saved to sustain yourself for one
- Do you currently have a professional network or the ability to
- Have you studied your market? Have you identified your niche?
Could you be first in something?
- Have you investigated white papers or recent articles that
project future trends in training and development?
- Do you legitimately own your product?
- Do you have a fire in your belly and a willingness to learn new
skills (such as marketing, accounting, and advertising)?
- Do you feel more stimulated than exhausted when reading this?
These are all good signs that you are in a state of readiness.
There is a Chinese proverb: "To she who waits all success will
come." It takes patience and even a little grit to see your work
come to fruition, as Fran Scarlett stated above. You cannot be
passive and expect people to find you. Still, trail blazing and
opening your own firm can yield deep rewards, far beyond dollars -
it is one of last bastions of the pioneer.