Should you go out on your own as an independent consultant? | Science


Among the new doctoral students. graduates, there seems to be a particular fascination with freelance consultant careers. I’m not talking about management consulting jobs at big companies like McKinsey & Company or Boston Consulting Group, which often hire doctoral students. holders. A job at an international consulting firm like this is as different as day and night from the kind of work I’m talking about this month.

Independent advice, with an emphasis on independence, means going out on your own (or joining a small firm) to offer your expertise to your clients. To the many Ph.D. holders who have an entrepreneurial streak, this may sound like just fine, especially after spending years working under the guidance of an advisor. Making a living without bowing or scratching has an appeal, as does setting your own hours and place of work. Having worked as a consultant for most of my career, I understand the appeal. My colleague Ryan Raver, who recently started in consulting after earning his doctorate. a few years ago, also appreciates the variety. “Consulting allows you to be exposed to a wide variety of projects at the same time,” he says. “You will never be bored.”

But it’s not for everyone, and it doesn’t come without compromise. For those of you wondering if a consulting career might be right for you, here’s the real rundown of the ups and downs.

Flexibility and responsibility

My friend Jack Cohen, who printed his consulting business card over a decade ago, sums up the tradeoffs of this type of work well. “My hours are relatively flexible and I can work when I want, as long as I meet my client’s needs. I no longer need to take a vacation between company meetings and budgeting, ”he says. On the other hand, he continues, “I don’t have any fringe benefits, like health care and paid vacation, which take a while to get used to. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.

In other words, consultants are not as easy as they seem. Of course, it’s no problem to hang up a shingle and announce your availability to the world as an expert in a given field, offering services by the hour, day or week. The hard part comes when you realize that being a consultant, whether as a Wall Street biotech investment advisor, executive recruiter, or self-employed technical expert, requires you to start a business.

When I was hired as an independent consultant a little over 30 years ago by a firm specializing in recruiting, the boss took me aside on the first day and said to me: the better. “It sounded shocking, and I had to ask for clarification. It turns out that ‘eat what you kill’ is a pretty common phrase in the consulting world. It means you have to go out, find clients and bring that back. business to get paid This type of consulting career requires you to devote half your time or more to marketing your services.

As Jack says, “if you’re into this kind of advice, you have to market yourself.” The process he took to build his business was not that different from the networking used to find a job. It all started with LinkedIn and contacting people he knew from his career and previous studies. Jack had years of experience with a few large pharmaceutical companies, so clients came more easily than they would for a more recent PhD. recipient. The lesson is, if you hate the calls and networking involved in finding a job, you won’t like much of what independent counseling demands.

This is true if you join a small consulting firm, like Ryan did; the focus is always on getting new business. “Even if you work in an existing organization, you are responsible for starting a business and working for that client,” says Ryan. “Your customer is your real boss.”

But being a part of a business offers a bit more security than going out alone, and for some it’s more acceptable than hanging up the shingle and becoming your own boss. The good news is that there are thousands of small consulting firms around the world, each in a niche, maybe an area that you think you can contribute to. For a single example, Bioprocess technology consultants is a small consulting company that works in bioprocess scaling, automation, etc. There are companies like that in all sectors.

But even when working for an organization, consultants should see themselves as independent workers: chef and bottle washer, as they say. “If you do decide to consult, remember that you will be asked to do everything, at all levels, whatever the client’s needs,” says Jack. “You are here to help. I have worked with younger consultants who seem primarily interested in demonstrating their knowledge, but that’s not what we’re here for.”

Does this sound like the way for you? If so, Jack and Ryan offered the advice they would give to newbie consultants.

“People depend on you, but be prepared to say ‘I don’t know’,” said Jack. “You might be an expert in the best lab and you certainly know what you are doing, but you are not perfect and you will sometimes be confused or deceived. don’t hesitate to turn down the job if I thought someone with a different expertise could do a better job for the client. “

For Ryan, it’s simple: “It all comes down to productivity and self-motivation,” he told me. At first, Ryan found it a bit shocking that no one was there in the morning to tell him what to do or to help structure his day. Being thrown into the fire would be the analogy I would use for that feeling. Ryan’s success in coming out to the other side is really because he’s the kind of person who knows how to get motivated. If you think that describes you, too, maybe a career as a freelance consultant could be right for you as well.

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