The Trade-Offs in Consulting

I hear from many of you about jumping into consulting, either by joining a firm or starting a business.

The good news is that this is a great time to be in the consulting business. In the US, for example, forecasters predict that Business and Professional Services will be the second fastest growing industry in the next ten years.

But consulting is not right for everyone. Over time, I’ve asked countless consultants what they like most (and least) about being in this business. Their answers always involve a discussion of trade-offs.

If you’re considering a career in consulting, here are some of the trade-offs people talk about:

  • Within a few months, you know every consulting joke by heart. In spite of all the wisecracks about the profession, your clients trust you to help solve their most complex problems.
  • You live with uncertainty, never completely sure of your next project. That next project always materializes, though, and it’s often more interesting than you could have imagined.
  • Clients tell you that your price is too high more often than you think is reasonable. Even so, you still win your fair share of profitable work at the fees you want.
  • You often travel to locations that you’d never visit if it wasn’t for client work, but you quickly learn how to appreciate things about new places.
  • You always wish that you had one more week to wrap up your project. As a result, you become a highly-skilled project manager who knows how to hit any deadline.
  • Clients rarely return your calls as quickly as you’d like. When they do call, though, they’re ready to engage with you.
  • You have to make personal sacrifices, including traveling at inconvenient times, missing family events, and working long hours. On the other hand, you enjoy a degree of independence in your work that most people never experience.
  • Your projects get tangled up in clients’ political drama, leaving outcomes in doubt. But, eventually, you watch your clients’ businesses and people change for the better as a result of your work.
  • You die inside when one person’s poor word choice in a meeting sets your client relationship back to square one. But, in the long-run, you develop lifelong business and personal relationships with your clients and colleagues.

Those are the trade-offs consultants mention to me most often. What would you add to the list?

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