So You Want to Go Into Procurement Consulting: 3 Areas to Consider

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Editor’s note: Rebecca Karp has also written about how she made the transition from a corporate career to running her own procurement consultancy and about the four work habits that consultants must avoid.

As curious human beings with varying levels of self-doubt, we’re all a bit taken with “expert” advice. If I see an article about losing weight or getting rich, I’m reading it. Now, I may not qualify as an expert, but fellow procurement and sourcing professionals often ask me for advice on moving from the corporate world to freelancing. Looking back, I can admit that my thought process was probably not as thorough as it could have been. So, in the same vein as lists of what doctors tell their own friends about common ailments, here are three things to know as you determine whether freelancing is for you.

Know Yourself

This is the most important thing to get straight. Ask yourself why you are doing it. Before I went independent, I don’t think a week went by without vowing to find a better way to make a living.

There is a big difference between doing something to address a short-term situation — like a bad boss or bad cultural fit with a company — and knowing in your gut that you will be happier going it alone. Once when I was really ticked off and threatening to leave my employer, someone told me to ask myself whether I am running away from something bad or toward something better. There are numerous ways to change a bad situation, but it takes more than just the desire to get out to be happy with a freelancing lifestyle.

This brings me to my next question: Will freelancing fit your lifestyle? I didn’t think about this seriously before quitting my corporate job. We all have habits and preferences that shape our satisfaction with everyday life, and these come into play in our work. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.

How do you feel about working from home?

Do you have a partner or significant other who is going to occupy the same space? Will this require them to change their routine? Your decision may mean renegotiating rules of the house. Sometimes people assume your new work situation will mean you can take on all the weekday household responsibilities, such as running kids to activities, accepting home deliveries and handling the plumber or electrician. You may be OK with that or you may not. Talk about it. Ignoring the consequences freelancing may have on the people you care about can offset your newly found work happiness with trouble on the home front.

Do you enjoy interacting with people regularly?

Office jobs have this social element built in, and if it is important to you and you decide to freelance, you will need to find ways to create personal interactions.

Are you OK with spending your own money on your job?

Some people have trouble with this. You need to spend money to expand your skills and build your business, but there are no more expense reports or corporate cards to cover it. The old adage that you need to spend money to make money applies here. Self-awareness is key, not only to decide whether to make the move but how to manage it to be happy.

Know the Job

You would never accept a job offer from a company without doing your homework. That same thinking applies to freelancing. When I was considering the freelancer life, I talked to trusted colleagues and acquaintances who were in various forms of consulting. I learned about different ways to be a consultant — like working in a big firm or a smaller firm or completely independent.

I highly recommend doing adequate research. You may find that you like consulting but aren’t sure you want to be completely independent. You may find a large consulting firm has a culture you love and provides stability. This exercise gave me the information I needed to be confident as I explored my options and made the right decision for me.

You should also understand your different needs as an independent:

  • Healthcare insurance
  • Emergency fund or other cash stash
  • Home office or suitable working environment
  • Business document templates — contract/SOW, timesheet, expense report
  • Business insurance — general liability and professional liability (these are different things)

Save the more involved and costly things until you’re certain you want to continue. They include LLC filing, website development, getting a business bank account, buying bookkeeping software and hiring an accountant.

Know the Path

Once you have decided “what” you want to do, you need to figure out “how.” For a couple of months before I resigned, I mentally rehearsed an Oscar-worthy job resignation — complete with righteous indignation (on my part) and crying (on their part). Truth is, you may need that bridge to your former employer down the road. I do not recommend torching it with a theatrical exit. Other than making you feel good for 15 minutes, it won’t help.

Don’t resign until you have a first project or good pipeline of opportunities — or at least a high level of confidence you’ll land a paying gig in the near future. Sure, indulge your inner ski bum or take the summer off, but get ready to get your toes out of the sand and back under a desk.

Lining up a project can take work. Start by catching up with your network. Propose helping an old boss or friend who needs your services or expertise. This can be a great way to get started, and there is some security in doing work for someone you know. If you go this route, be flexible on the pay rate you expect and respect the new dynamic of your relationship — they are now a client. Clients sometimes lose funding for projects and have to cut outside resources. That is not a reflection of their personal feelings about you.

Finally, plan an exit strategy. You can give your two-week notice and leave, or you can try to negotiate an exit package with your current employer. The exit package can work if there is some benefit to the company from your departure. The most obvious one is if they are looking to reduce headcount.

Our work lives consume the majority of our waking hours. What we do with those hours is critically important to our happiness. Decisions about major changes are never easy. If you know yourself, details about your options and logistics of how to get there, you’ll be in great shape to make sure those hours are rewarding.

You can contact Rebecca Karp at rkarp@sourcing-synergies.com or follow her on Twitter @rebeccakarp.

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