Leaping into Consulting: My Recent Career Adventure
YNPN National Board member Cat Beltmann talks about the adventure she's embarking on in 2014 and shares a few tips for going out on your own.
Last August, I made one of the biggest career decisions of my life. I decided to start my own consulting business. I had never worked for myself, really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but knew that I had to make a change. I had worked with a number of consultants over the years and decided they had the best jobs ever. Doesn’t sleeping in, working on projects you want to work on, and sitting at your desk in pajamas sound amazing?!
I couldn’t officially make the leap until November, but decided that my first move needed to be talking to my boss. I knew that he would be supportive of my decision and I wanted his blessing to start talking to mutual contacts about my transition. The last thing I wanted to happen was for him to find out through the grapevine that I was quitting. Thankfully, our conversation went a million times better than expected. During my transition, I spent countless hours getting advice from anyone and everyone. I’ve learned a lot during the past few months. Sadly, my initial picture of consulting work was a bit skewed, but it’s been an amazing journey so far.
So, what advice have I found helpful?
1. Whether or not to set-up a work day routine is a big debate. Some people recommended acting like you are going to an office – shower, shave, and get dressed in work clothes. Others recommended just going with the flow. Work when you want and wear your pajamas if you so desire. I think you just need to find what works best for you. Attempt a structured routine and if you hate it make adjustments. What works for one person might not work for you.
2. If you work from home create a workspace. It’s easy to be reminded of all of the housework you could/should take care of when you’re sitting in the middle of it, and on the flip side it can be hard to stop working if you’re constantly sitting by your laptop. Working for yourself shouldn’t be an excuse to toss work-life balance out the window and designating a workspace can help. I was lucky enough to have a room that I could convert into an office. If you don’t have a separate room then carve out a corner of your kitchen, bedroom, or living room. Set-up a desk and use it when you’re working. Establish an office closing time, leave your desk, and don’t go back until the next day.
3. Working for yourself is very different than working for someone else. You’ll quickly realize there is a big difference between running your business and doing business. You are your technology person, bookkeeper, personal assistant, and chief marketing officer. Clients aren’t paying you for the time spent fixing your printer or setting up invoices. Don’t underestimate the amount of time you’ll have to spend actually running your business. You might be working 60 hours a week, but you’re probably only getting paid for half of that (if you are lucky).
4. There are tools and apps that will make your life so much easier. Use them! Do your research and ask around. Two of the first things you’ll need to figure out is what it will cost you to run your business and how much you should charge. Freelance Switch has a great rate calculator to help you figure that out. I love using Toggl to track my time and Wave for accounting.
5. This sounds cliché, but believe in yourself and trust your instincts. My grandpa once gave my brother the advice that when you get to a four way stop just close your eyes and go. Terrible driving advice but great life advice. Close your eyes and go has become my personal mantra. If you’re going to succeed you have to trust yourself and your abilities. Every time I start to panic and doubt myself I just remember to close my eyes and go. I’ve never regretted doing it and have found that I’ve succeed more times than I’ve failed.
6. Don’t forget to breathe. A friend sent me an email on my last day at my job old, she told me to take a deep breath – enjoy my last day and then take a few days before I started stressing out about finding work. The emotions and stress that go along with starting your own business can be overwhelming. I am fortunate and am off to a very solid start, but every few days I panic. I panic about finding work, if this was good financial decision, and the list goes on. After of few minutes of panic, I remind myself to take a deep breath. It’s impossible to control the future and uncertainty is part of the game. Panic won’t help you lock in your next contract or produce better work. It will only prevent you from being successful.
7. This is your journey. The most important lesson that I’ve learned is that my journey is my own. No one has all of the answers, no one piece of advice is better than another, and every journey looks a little different. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Cat Beltmann is the owner of So Good Consulting where she partners with organizations to create and sustain social value through events and community engagement initiatives. Recent clients include the Bush Foundation, the Office of the Secretary of State, and Mylan Communications Consulting.
In her previous position, she served as the Community Engagement Manager for the Citizens League where she was in charge of developing, coordinating, and implementing numerous small and large scale events. She served as the League’s event manager for the Policy and a Pint series, a partnership between the Citizens League and 89.3 the Current.
She managed event concept development, sponsor recruitment, budget development, and event implementation for 6 of the Citizens League’s annual meetings, which draw approximately 300 attendees annually and have feature both local and national keynote speakers. Most recently, she was the catalyst for the creation of the Generation Now Leadership Visit, a 3-day leadership development trip that took 50 current and rising professionals from Minnesota to Milwaukee.
Cat holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and will receive a Masters in Nonprofit Management in the summer of 2014. She is also sits on the national board for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.