Leaving Corporate America by Switching to Independent ConsultingOct 16, 2023
- How do you break out of corporate America?
- Why I quit my corporate career
- What is the best way to transition out of the corporate world?
- Tradeoffs between working at a large company and running your own consulting business
- Leaving corporate America to establish your independent consulting business
- Drop out and stay out: Pro tips for staying the course
- Get the help you need to leave corporate America and grow your independent consulting business
Who is this guide for
Are you considering leaving your full-time corporate role to become an independent consultant?
Each year, more people are working independently (source: MBO Partners State of Independence Report).
If consulting has been calling to you, now is the time to start exploring consulting, whether it’s by leaving corporate to full-time consulting or adding on consulting as a side gig to start.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the steps to decide if it’s time to break away from corporate America and launch into the world of independent consulting so you have control over how much money you make, who you work with (and who you choose not to work with), where you work, and how you work.
How do you break out of corporate America?
In my opinion, the best way to break out of corporate America is to decide you’re going to break out of your corporate career, set a date of no-return, and follow the six steps I share below so you’re ready to exit and don’t look back.
You can make this decision while you’re working in a full-time position or after you’ve been laid off or fired.
If you aren’t clear about your exit criteria or waver about your intentions, it’s going to be extremely difficult to exit your corporate career because you’ll be constantly comparing, thinking about “what if”, and experiencing the “grass is always greener” effect. The key to success in leaving corporate is to decide and commit.
Why I quit my corporate career
I didn’t start my consulting business on purpose. I call myself an “accidental consultant.” And, I’m incredibly grateful for the turn that took my professional life in a completely different direction.
I was climbing the corporate ladder and had every intention of becoming a CEO one day. I had cultivated an impressive track record over the first ~10 years of my career, starting at Accenture and then building a SaaS start-up to a mid-sized company and an exit.
I was in the middle of helping the company navigate the start-up's growing pains and a new CEO and CFO when my husband landed his own career opportunity. This career opportunity for him was in Hawaii. As a family, we had to decide between moving to Hawaii for his career and me quitting my job OR him turning down the opportunity so I could stay in Denver working at my company.
Ultimately, we decided to move to Hawaii. I was burned out and we were open to a new way of life with our then one-and-a-half year old.
I resigned from my company and the global implementation team I had built from the ground up. It was devastating and scary. I was changing from someone with an impressive title and a corner office to a stay-at-home mom.
Luckily for me, when he accepted my resignation, the CEO of my company asked me to stay on as a strategy consultant. That simple request changed the course of my life.
The thought of consulting, especially as an independent consultant, had never crossed my mind. I didn’t feel qualified enough. I didn’t feel seasoned (read old) enough. I didn’t feel networked enough. I didn’t feel competent enough.
Despite these doubts, I agreed to work with my former company as a consultant.
And, that’s where my path as an independent consultant started. I’ve never looked back. I’m frequently approached for corporate roles, especially now that our time in Hawaii is over and we’re back on the mainland. I politely decline every time. Going back to corporate, even for a substantial salary, lucrative bonuses, and meaningful equity, is not worth it to me.
Fast forward to today. This is why I’m a coach for independent consultants. I’m passionate about helping people leave their successful corporate careers to build businesses that give them complete control over their finances, schedule, work-life balance, people they’re working with, and the type of work they’re doing.
What is the best way to transition out of the corporate world?
The best way to transition out of the corporate world is whatever way you choose and commit to.
I’m not trying to be flippant here. There is truly no “right way”. No matter how you make the transition, the key is to decide you want to transition out of corporate and to commit to making it happen no matter what.
You can transition out in a slow, methodical way, such as building up a large reserve fund that can support you and your family during the transition.
Or, you can resign and figure it out, like I did.
Or, you can decide not to go back after being fired or laid off.
It doesn’t matter what prompted you to transition out of corporate. It just matters that you’re committed to succeeding as an independent consultant so you never have to worry about returning to corporate again.
Tradeoffs between working at a large company and running your own consulting business
There are tradeoffs between working in corporate and running your own consulting business. Nothing is perfect.
When you’re working in corporate, you do have a consistent, predictable paycheck every few weeks (until/unless you’re fired, laid off, or pushed out). But, in a corporate role, you have less autonomy over the type of work you’re doing, who you’re working with, when you’re working, and how you’re working.
On the flip side, when you’re an independent consultant, you’re 100% responsible for driving your own revenue and your paycheck. The upside is that you get to decide when you work, how you work, where you work, with whom you work, and you have full control over your finances and work-life balance.
Having full control might sound scary, and it can be. But, it’s also liberating after you figure out the basics of running your own consulting business.
Leaving corporate America to establish your independent consulting business
There are six steps to leave corporate and establish your independent consulting business.
Step #1: Define your exit criteria
First, define your corporate exit criteria. For example, do you need to have a certain amount of money built up in your savings account to support your family for 6 months? Having savings can give you peace of mind and a runway for you to launch and grow your consulting business without as much pressure.
Step #2: Set a non-negotiable date
For those in the corporate world eyeing a transition to independent consulting, setting a firm, non-negotiable exit date from your full-time job is crucial. This date is a cornerstone of your transition plan, offering a tangible goal and a sense of commitment to your new path. It's not just a symbolic move; it forces you to prepare properly for your consultancy venture. With a specific date in mind, you're compelled to build a client base and establish a financial safety net, ensuring a more confident and organized shift into the world of independent consulting. Without this clear, non-negotiable date, procrastination can easily take hold, hindering your progress and leaving you stuck in the realm of hesitation and uncertainty.
Step #3: Be clear on why you want to become an independent consultant
In the transition from a full-time corporate job to becoming an independent consultant, it's crucial to get clear on your "why." Your reason for making this shift is the driving force that will keep you on track. While you might be focused on the practical aspects and the steps to take, understanding your true motivation is the cornerstone of a successful transition plan. Getting clear on your “why” and making it meaningful, will help you get through the hard times and second-guessing.
Your "why" will provide the determination to overcome challenges and maintain your commitment to this new path. Without a clear and compelling "why," it's easy to lose your way, become distracted, or succumb to doubt. Whether your motivation is pursuing a passion, achieving a better work-life balance, or making a more significant impact, your "why" is what will keep you moving forward in your journey from corporate employment to independent consulting.
Step #4: Think, feel, and act like a business owner (ahead of time)
Transitioning from an employee to a business owner requires a mental shift that's just as crucial as the practical steps. Begin by acknowledging that uncertainty, discomfort, and fear are all part of the game. Expect these feelings, and understand that they come with the territory. The key is not to let them shake your resolve. It's natural to have moments when you second-guess your decision and contemplate returning to corporate life.
However, to succeed as an independent consultant, you must intentionally cultivate a business owner mindset that supersedes your employee mentality. Approach challenges with curiosity and ask yourself, "How would a successful business owner think about this situation?" By constantly embracing this shift in perspective, you can develop the confidence and certainty needed to navigate the inevitable bumps in the road on your journey to becoming a thriving independent consultant.
Step #5: Focus on landing consulting clients
In your journey from a full-time employee to an independent consultant, it's crucial to focus on landing your first client or two, as a priority. Make it a clear goal to find one or two clients before your exit.
This isn't just about ensuring a smooth financial transition; it's about gaining confidence in your ability to independently attract clients.
Instead of overthinking or following conventional advice on how to get and price client work, concentrate on the most practical and straightforward approach that you believe will work best for your situation. Trust your instincts and take decisive action, showing yourself that you can do this and laying the foundation for your successful consulting career.
Step #6: Keep going until you’re successful
In the initial stages of your journey from a full-time employee to an independent consultant, it's crucial to maintain a forward momentum without looking back or second-guessing your decision, even before landing your first client.
Your success relies on your ability to maintain unwavering determination. Don't look back or second-guess your choice; commit to figuring things out no matter what. Doubts will surface, but remember why you started this journey. Trust in your abilities and stay dedicated to your goal. The path from full-time employment to independent consulting may present challenges, but your persistence will be your greatest asset. Keep your focus, stay on course, and never lose sight of the opportunities that await you as you work to establish your consulting career.
Drop out and stay out: Pro tips for staying the course
Running a business of any kind, especially one that requires you to sell yourself as the “product”, is not for the faint of heart.
The #1 tip for staying the course as an independent consultant is to know that experiencing negative emotions is part of the process.
You will feel terrible.
You will feel worried.
You will feel stressed.
You will question if you made the right decision.
You will feel that your success is a fluke.
You will question your abilities.
You’ll wonder if it’s worth it.
And, this is all part of the process.
The key to staying the course and succeeding as a business owner is NOT to try to conquer all of these negative emotions such that they’re eliminated. Because, if you’re not experiencing negative emotions, you’re not challenging yourself or living up to your potential as a business owner.
Instead, the key is to learn how to manage through these negative emotions, to know they’re a part of growing a consulting business, and to understand that, even though they feel uncomfortable, these negative emotions are not a problem. You don’t need to get rid of them to succeed. It’s the opposite that’s true. To achieve lasting, sustainable long-term success as a business owner requires mastering your capacity to handle a full range of emotions, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Get the help you need to leave corporate America and grow your independent consulting business
You don’t have to make this transition on your own. Get help from someone who has left corporate, built a successful consulting business, and now helps consultants make their own successful transition from corporate to consulting. Melisa Liberman has built out the proprietary Launch-IC™️ Program for people who are looking to exit their corporate career and start a growing consulting business.
Learn more about coaching for consultants for coaching specifically designed for people who are making this transition from corporate to consulting. Then book your free consultation to determine if coaching with Melisa is the next best step for you.
In the meantime, Melisa has created resources to help you exit corporate and launch your consulting business:
- Download the IC Toolkit resources that will help you define and launch your consulting business.
- Read the “Definitive Checklist for Starting a Consulting Business."
Have you launched a consulting business and are second-guessing your decision? Listen to Episode 004 of the Grow Your Independent Consulting Business podcast to help you navigate this nagging second-guessing. Episode 004: Should You Return to Corporate?