So You Want to Go Into Procurement Consulting – Thoughts from the USA (& from Me)

The Spend Matters US site featured another article last week from Rebecca Karp, who writes about setting up and running her own procurement consulting business. This is her third article, all aimed at helping practitioners in corporate roles currently decide whether a life as a consultant might be for them.

They’re very good, clear and informative, and recommended if you have any thoughts about making this career change. This latest article is titled “So You Want to Go Into Procurement Consulting: 3 Areas to Consider”. The three areas she covers are “Know Yourself”, “Know the Job” and “Know the Path”. That last point is about making the transition from the corporate world, particularly if you are going out on your own (rather than joining Deloitte). “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” she says – good advice!

Thinking back on my moves into consulting, first of all from a big CPO role into a small consulting firm, then a couple of years later when I went out on my own, there weren’t too many big surprises. But one which you need to consider is that the working-for-yourself life did not have the flexibility that many might expect. “You must have lots of time to play golf now” was the comment from friends when I set up on my own, but actually the opposite was true.

That was in part because (luckily) I was busy, but also you realise that you are now on the provider side of the buy/sell table, and therefore you must respond to the buyer and be flexible to meet their requirements. In my days as a procurement director, I might book a day’s leave to play golf, and that was firmly in the diary. As a consultant, I would find that suddenly I was needed for a meeting on Friday (probably 200 miles away from home), or asked to produce an unexpected report by Monday morning … and it is not easy or advisable to say “no” to the client if you want a successful relationship and ongoing work.

If you are balancing multiple consulting clients rather than working in what is really an interim role, then those pressures increase considerably too. And if I did not have paid work occupying every day of the working week, I would worry about the pipeline and spend non-fee earning time working on winning that next assignment. All in all, my golf playing time actually dropped dramatically when I went out on my own.

Now I do know some people who managed to balance this better than I did, but they tended to be those who were treating their work more as a bridge into semi-retirement. They did keep a day or two a week free for personal enjoyment – so it may be your goals and indeed temperament matter as well as the intrinsic difficulty of achieving this balance. But if you are not thinking of retirement, and certainly if you are looking to build any sort of business, you may well find that your flexibility is actually less than you previously had in a large corporate.

That’s not to suggest you shouldn’t think about going out on your own, and it has much to recommend it as an option, as Rebecca points out in her articles. But like any job, you can’t have everything. There are trade-offs to be made, and if you want to be successful, you shouldn’t assume that your handicap is going to come down to single figures, or that your family are going to enjoy lots more quality “Mum or Dad time”! But you can have the occasional snooze in the office ...

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  1. Jason Busch:

    A typical self portrait, er Peter? That was me this morning … in between working on PowerPoint decks!

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