So I’ve finally made the transition from full-time employee to self-employed consultant.
It’s a transition I’ve been thinking about making for just about as long as I’ve been a full-time employee. I can remember dreaming about being a content strategy consultant back in 2001. I’m not even sure the term “content strategy” existed back in 2001—I certainly didn’t know it if it did. It was lack of knowledge like that kept me from actually pursuing that dream.
From then on, a few times a year the idea of striking off on my own would pop into my head. It was a romantic notion: jet-setting around, looking fabulous in high-power suits, getting to know interesting people and solve compelling problems with solutions that made a real difference in people’s lives. But there was always some reason not to: I didn’t have enough experience, I didn’t have a big enough network, I needed to finish my MBA…something was always lacking. And then, earlier this year, the notion popped into my head again, and I could no longer think of any reasons not to go for it.
Well, so far it hasn’t exactly been jet-setting and high fashion, but I’ve loved it anyway.
I am one of those personality types that simply must be self-employed. I love collaborating, but I resent taking orders. For over 10 years I’ve gotten by in the corporate world by volunteering for work rather than having it mandated. It might not seem like much of a difference to you. Maybe it’s not any different, in a rational sense, but mine was not a rational resentment.
As a consultant, though, I’m in a much better position because my work inherently requires collaboration. And though I’ll have clients who are making the calls on what work to do, the timbre of my relationship with a client is different than of a relationship with a boss. I feel like I’m helping a fellow professional, not just following orders.
My first struggle as a consultant was to communicate what I do. The scope of everything that was possible was so large and imbued with context that it took 15 minutes to walk someone down the path of describing the possibilities. Even the term that I’ve settled on now, “content strategy” is not inherently meaningful to people outside of the world of technical communication (and even to many people inside the world). I was resistant to getting too specific about the things I could do for fear of being pigeonholed into only those few things.
But I had to face facts: people can’t get their minds around something large and abstract. You have to give them small, well-defined concepts and trust those things to spark their imagination. So now my website starts with three benefits I can offer:
- Improve the quality and reduce the cost of your content by streamlining processes.
- Remove operational inefficiencies between departments, avoid confusion, and send a more consistent message to customers.
- Employ cutting-edge technology that will make you central to the operations at you company, improve customer satisfaction, and establish yourself as a highly effective information manager.
I also go into some detail about successful past projects, such as an implementation of structured authoring for content reuse, the implementation of a customer feedback mechanism and the related workflows to incorporate the feedback, and the creation of automated components to an API documentation set.
So far I have really loved the life of a consultant. It feels very natural to me to be getting out of bed in the morning to drive my own business rather than because the boss man says I need to be at my desk at a certain time. I love that I can approve my own expense reports and that my commute is the amount of time it takes to walk from my coffeemaker in the kitchen to my home office. I love that I spend my time keeping in contact with my network and figuring out ways to add real value to companies.
I think the biggest surprise so far has been that I’m actually busier than I was as a full-time employee. I complained about having too much to do when I worked in the office, but I didn’t know from busy then. Maybe things will settle down once I’m no longer in start up phase, but that is probably just wishful thinking. But that’s a good problem to have.