Exploring Your Options: Employee, Consultant or Entrepreneur
By Wendy Enelow, CCM, MRW, JCTC, CPRW
Never in the history of modern-day business have you - as a working adult - had so many different options for your career. Not only do you need to decide WHAT you want to do - finance, sales, IT, HR, general management, etc. - you have to decide HOW you want to do it. Do you want to be:
* An employee, enjoying the safety, security (somewhat questionable these days!), and benefits of “corporate” employment. There are a great many positive things to be said about getting that W-2, your pension plan, and all the other perks.
* A consultant, thriving in the world of projects, clients, and solutions. The diversity of a consulting career intrigues many senior managers and executives, allowing them to leverage their particular expertise and enjoy lots of different experiences and opportunities.
* An entrepreneur, defining and pursuing your own course of action. Entrepreneurship can be enticing and tremendously rewarding, but you must learn to live with the risk and potential for financial uncertainty. It can be a heavy load to carry.
This article will focus on each of these different career paths, their advantages and potential disadvantages, to help you determine which is most appropriate for you. We begin with the most widely pursued path, that of the employee.
WORKING AS AN EMPLOYEE
Despite the uncertainty of financial markets, the recently poor performance of the technology sector, and other depressing economic news, the opportunities for employment do exist - today and in the future. Finding them might take a bit more effort and creativity than in years past, but jobs do exist and will continue to exist.
If you’ve made the decision to pursue employment, then you must ask yourself the following questions:
* How are you going to manage and advance your career?
* How are you going to position yourself for continual increases in your compensation?
* How will you find self-satisfaction and personal fulfillment in your job?
The single most important thing to remember as an employee is that no matter who writes your paycheck, ultimately you work for yourself and for your family. Therefore, your job must not only provide money, benefits, and the like, it must also provide you with a feeling of self-worth and personal identity. In a world where work often dominates our lives, these personal feelings of value and contribution are vital to your own personal growth and sense of achievement. Just as critical, your employer must find value and worth in what you bring to their organization.
Planning and preparation are key. It is strongly recommended that you develop your own “Career Map,” a tool that allows you to envision where you will be a year from now, 5 years from now, 10 years from now, and so forth. With your “Career Map” in hand, you’ll have a roadmap to chart your projected career growth and direction, knowing that it will change over time as you move forward, encounter new opportunities, expand your knowledge, and reposition yourself for continued growth.
When you have a plan in hand, you have control over your destiny, something that all too many employees feel they give up when they accept an employment opportunity. Many believe their careers are now in the hands of the company, and they sit passively by, waiting for the company to make the next move.
But, not you! You know that your objective is to move up another tier in the management structure of your company, or another company, within the next two years. In anticipation, you should engage in the following activities:
* Prepare and continually update your “Achievement Journal,” highlighting each and every contribution, project, cost saving, revenue increase, and more that you’ve delivered to the company. This will be a vital tool in negotiating your next promotion and accompanying salary increase.
* Develop a “Networking Resource File” that you can easily and quickly update with each new network contact, people who may be of value when planning and executing your next job search campaign.
* Prepare a “Compensation Chart” to specifically depict your REALISTIC projections for growth in salary, benefits, and other financial perks. Keep this with your Career Map and update them simultaneously.
As an employee, you strive to meet two independent, yet interrelated, agendas - your personal agenda and the agenda of your employer. It is quite possible to achieve both as long as you are clear about what you want and can communicate that information, and your supporting qualifications, achievements, and talents, to an employer.
WORKING AS A CONSULTANT
Ten years ago, there were few consultants, and those who were, most often worked for the large, well-established consulting firms. Today, however, consulting has become a rapidly growing profession, advantageous for both the consultants and the companies who engage them.
As a consultant, once you’ve established yourself and built a solid reputation, you are free to pick and choose your assignments, concentrating on areas of professional interest and challenge to you. Further, you are often quite well paid for your expertise, and the opportunities are unlimited. There are consultants who specialize in strategic planning, sales, marketing, IT, HR, productivity and efficiency improvement, corporate and investment finance, mergers and acquisitions, operations, and virtually every other profession and function you can think of.
As an employer, you can capture the best talent for a specific project or assignment, whether for two weeks or two years, and be “done” with a consultant when the project is complete. There is no long-term commitment or “marriage” as there exists between employer and employee.
If you’ve made the decision to pursue a consulting career, then you must answer the following questions:
* Do you thrive in a constantly changing work environment? Consultants are on the move, from client to client, working in a diversity of organizations. To succeed, you must be able to quickly adapt to your changing environment and get up to speed almost instantaneously.
* Can you handle the pressure of constant deadlines and commitments? More often than not, consultants work on time-sensitive projects and are constantly pressured to deliver, deliver, deliver. Can you handle the stress?
* Do you have strong team building and team leadership skills? Teaming is the preferred method of operation in tens of thousands of companies today. Virtually no one works independently. Rather, you are engaged as a consultant to either participate on a team or lead that team. Do you have the requisite management, leadership, and communication skills to meet that requirement?
* Are you a talented marketer, confident, articulate, and self-motivated? Most consultants, other than those employed with the largest of consulting firms, must sell their consulting services as the first step in building new client relationships. As such, no matter your area of specialization, you must be an astute marketer, able to quickly communicate your knowledge and expertise; able to quickly demonstrate your value to a prospective client.
* Do you wish to work as an independent consultant, or do you prefer to join an established consulting firm? This is perhaps the most critical of all questions.
If you choose a career as an independent consultant, you are choosing what many consider an entrepreneurial path. There will be no single employer writing your paycheck, no paid sick days, no paid holidays, and no paid benefits package. Rather, you will have to create your own opportunities through a combination of your marketing savvy, your client relationship management skills, and your particular area of consulting expertise. What’s more, you have to ask yourself if you can live with the financial risk of self-employment and the roller coaster of emotions that often follows along. You’re “up” when you’re working and “down” when you’re not.
If, on the other hand, you choose to join a consulting firm, you are often getting the best of both worlds - the dynamic and constantly changing working environment that appeals to so many consultants, along with the stability of that biweekly paycheck from your employer (the consulting firm).
Today, consulting is a well-established and well-respected career path appealing to the professional, the manager, and the executive. Opportunities abound as companies have realized the tremendous financial and operational benefits consultants can bring to their organizations. It truly is a “win-win” for everyone involved. If you have the fortitude, the drive, and the expertise to position yourself as a consultant, you will find the personal, professional, and financial rewards can be quite significant.
WORKING AS AN ENTREPRENEUR
Nations around the world have nurtured entrepreneurship in its various forms for centuries, but never before has there been such a phenomenal number of entrepreneurs, from the small business owner down the street to Bill Gates of today’s technology revolution. It is vital that you be realistic in your expectations, knowing that the vast majority of entrepreneurs own small ventures and not mega-corporations. We are not seen on Oprah, not featured in Time magazine, and not rushing to the bank with our millions of dollars. Rather, we are hard-working individuals who have chosen an entrepreneurial career path for a diversity of personal and professional reasons.
Before you make the decision to launch an entrepreneurial venture, ask yourself the following questions:
* Are you a risk-taker?
* Can you live with the uncertainty of when you’ll get your next paycheck? Do you have money saved?
* Can you work tirelessly for weeks and months on end? Do you have a high level of energy?
* Can you work through disappointments and lost opportunities, and continue to move forward?
* Are you confident, assertive, self-motivated, and self-reliant?
* Do you have the emotional support of your friends and family?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you most certainly have the entrepreneurial grit, determination, and support system that are so vital for success. Without those qualities and an intense commitment, you’ll face an almost insurmountable challenge.
Then, ask yourself why you’re considering entrepreneurship.
* If it’s to escape the drudgery of a 9-5 job, forgot it! 9 to 5 will seem like a vacation when you’re self-employed.
* If it’s to make a ton of money, forget it! No matter the business concept, no matter the marketing strategy, no matter your network of contacts, no matter anything, building a new venture COSTS money. It will take time, maybe 6 months, maybe 3 years, before you ever begin to see a steady stream of profits.
* If it’s so that you can call your own shots, forget it! Although you may be profitably self-employed and think that you’re running the show, the reality is that your customers/clients run the show. Now, instead of reporting to just your manager, you’re reporting to each and every client that you work for. Your accountability increases, not decreases.
* If it’s so you can pick and choose which hours you want to work, forget it! You’ll find that you’re working ALL of them to meet client and project deadlines. Sure, it’s easier to take a Friday off here and there, but only if your business continues to operate and respond to client needs in your absence.
* If it’s to create a stable working environment, forget it! Entrepreneurship is a dynamic and forever-changing career path. You must be able to work fluidly, be willing to change as the market and your customers dictate, and be able to emotionally handle the constant flux in which you may find yourself.
Are you totally discouraged now? Don’t be! Yes, there are uncertainties, long hours, lack of sleep, financial concerns, and tremendous commitments as an entrepreneur, but there are also tremendous advantages. As an entrepreneur and small business owner myself, I cannot imagine doing anything else. Despite the many negatives, there is no other career path that would have been appropriate for me. Is it the same for you?
Work is such a huge part of our lives today that both personal and professional fulfillment are vital in your career. Now, with such unlimited opportunities as an employee, consultant, or entrepreneur, you can pick and choose the path that is most closely aligned with your skills and long-term career objectives. Go forward with zest and determination, and make your career what you want it to be!