The Consulting Life

The great thing is not to lose your nerve.
Jerry Pournelle

I’ve been rather quiet on this blog about my actual doings lately because, quite frankly, it’s been a little disheartening finding full-time or at least steady work. However, I am working, I do have a variety of customers/clients, and I am continuing to work through my network to find additional work. If you’ve decided to become a consultant, you probably already recognize the issues I’m facing.

Lifestyle Concerns: I’ve been extremely lucky in that I’ve been able to obtain a couple of house-sitting gigs for the spring and summer, which reduces my outgoing cash flow to the basics: food, car payments/insurance, health insurance, and telecommunications. Aside from clothes and computers, the rest of my worldly possessions are in storage. That is not an ideal situation, but it beats a lot of alternatives, including living with my parents, which I did for two months until the house-sitting gigs appeared. I don’t get out much, but then I was that way before I became unemployed from my full-time gig. Money continues to be tight, but I’m getting more frugal on some things and forcing myself to think more creatively about where I could get cash–stock sales, eBay, personal loans.

Number of Paying Clients: If you check out my resume, you’ll note that I’ve picked up quite a few side jobs…to the point where side jobs ARE my job. The workloads and pay scales vary, from zero to whatever consulting rate the market/customer will bear. I keep turning over that list in my head, thinking, “Certainly with all these customers, something must come up that will pay rent!” But the economy is sluggish still, and finding work is a challengeMy opposite fear is that everyone will come in with work at once and leave me overwhelmed. That would be a nice problem to have, but so far that’s just idle fantasizing, like those Lotto tickets I occasionally buy “because you just never know.”

The Temptation to Return to a Full-Time Staff Job: I won’t lie to you–I keep checking the want ads for cool jobs. However, I had a cool job at my previous employer, and the only reason I don’t still have that job is thanks to a combination of government shutdown and sequestration. Otherwise, I’d still be dispensing sage advice from Huntsville, Alabama. As it is, my unexpected downsizing has forced me to think differently about my career. Working in a small business made me realize how much more freedom that type of environment provides. You can choose what types of work to go for, what types of customers you want, and what sorts of hours you want to set. Try making those requests in a large corporation and see how well you do! So I have to keep this in mind, because (as Darlene the Science Cheerleader reminded me recently) some people strive for years to have the life I’ve got  right now. Consulting life provides a lot more freedom when it comes to how you spend your days. I don’t grocery shop at rush hour anymore and I’ve been able to have lunch with my dad on a regular basis. Not too shabby.

Deciding How to Pursue Networking Opportunities: As I stated above, I don’t get out much because I can’t afford it. However, I did manage to attend a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral as well as the Humans 2 Mars Summit and the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, DC, this past month. That trip was made possible through a combination of cashing in frequent flyer miles for the plane ticket and having a patient friend in DC who was willing to let me crash with her while I attended my various events. Did I have to attend these events? In my view, yes, because it was an opportunity to connect with space people, look for work, and also help a cause and organization (Science Cheerleader) that I’ve been supporting for over five years. A couple of opportunities did present themselves, I did get to connect with the people I wanted to connect with, and I even managed to have fun along the way.

So I need to keep moving on this consulting thing–sticking to the things I like and figuring out how to make (more) money from them–and enjoy the freedom I have. Do I really want to go back to the security of a cubicle job? Things to consider.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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