The many benefits of independent consulting – including flexible hours, unlimited earning potential, and the freedom to choose your own clients and projects – has made this career choice increasingly popular. In fact, MBO Partners’ 2012 State of Independence in America reports that the independent workforce grew by nearly one million in the past year. However, not all who are drawn to the prospect of independent consulting are able – or ready – to dive in with both feet.
Maybe you plan on keeping your current job temporarily while your consultancy gains traction and begins generating steady income. Perhaps independent consulting interests you, but you want to test the viability of consulting in a non-traditional field before leaving your current position, or you’re unsure of whether the lifestyle of independent work is right for you. In any case, moonlighting as a part-time consultant is an option that can give you the ability to gradually transition from an employee to a full-time consultant. However, there are a few considerations to keep in mind when preparing to test the consulting waters.
Consult Your Employee Agreement and Restrictions
Any employee agreements you signed when you came on board with your current employer may have provisions that restrict or limit your ability to freelance as an independent consultant. These restrictions could include non-compete agreements, conflict of interest guidelines, or requirements that mandate disclosure of all outside employment. In some cases, employee agreements may outright prohibit additional employment, or even retain rights to any projects or work you do while employed, even if done outside of work.
Before launching your consultancy, obtain a copy of this agreement and any other restrictions from your company’s HR department so that you can ensure that you are in compliance. You may also wish to consult an attorney to go over any agreements or language that you don’t fully understand.
Clearly Define Your Goals
Part-time independent consultants may have unique goals to consider regarding their dual-employment status. While some part-time consultants may plan to moonlight indefinitely, many view their situation as temporary as they transition into full-time independence, or as they decide whether to commit to consulting or their current employment.
From the outset, it’s important to clearly determine what your goals are – including a timeline and list of criteria. If you’re planning on transitioning to full-time independence, outline the standards you will use to signal each phase of your transition, such as a certain sustained income or number of clients needed to leave your current job. If you’re testing independent consulting before deciding whether to commit to it, creating objectives as markers of success or failure can help you determine where to focus your career efforts.
Manage Your Time Carefully
Launching a consultancy and gaining your first clients can be arduous and time-consuming, particularly if your hours are limited by another job. Make sure to keep the working hours for your two jobs completely separate. Clearly communicate your availability to any current and potential clients so that they understand when you are and are not available. Also, take great care to ensure that you don’t inadvertently use any resources – time or otherwise – from your current employer in pursuit of your consultancy; in many cases, this may be grounds for termination.
In addition, for any independent worker, maintaining a healthy work-life balance can require a conscious effort. For part-time independent consultants who are also holding down an additional full-time job, this balance can be even more difficult. With more hours spent working and fewer hours to yourself and with your family, the potential for stress and burnout is increased. Make sure that you define boundaries and free up time to stay mentally and physically healthy during this time.
What advice would you give to someone moonlighting as an independent consultant? Tell us in the comments!