In a time of convenience, people are searching for more and more ways to work towards the glamorous idea of working from home or working for themselves. It sounds like an ideal plan for everyone.  Work when you want. Take on clients that you want. The idea of making your own schedule and setting your own pace is a generally appealing one to people. Add to this the sheer number of people who think of themselves as an expert in their field.  With people thinking about branching out on their own, it begs the question –what does it take to be a consultant?

Let me share with you a typical “day in the life” of this particular consultant. It involves me waking up at 5 AM to pack up. Next, I check out of whichever hotel I’ve been staying at for the past night or two because I have to make it in to my client’s office for a 7 AM start time.  The day is then filled with meetings, work, and projects all day. I have to leave the office by 4:30 PM for my 6 PM flight. It’s time then to deal with the rental car and getting to the airport. I navigate through the airport. Fly in. Drive home.  Once I arrive it’s about 8:40 PM and the kids are already in bed. I go in and say goodnight, unpack, and have dinner. Everyone else then goes to bed and I have to go into my office and do two more hours of work. Around 1:30 AM I am heading to bed because the next morning starts with a 7 AM conference call. I do this every single week.

The idea? It’s not as grand as people make it out to be. The work still has to be done. I don’t get to go home and not think about a job until tomorrow. Think about the times that you bring work home from the office and how stressful that is. Now imagine that is every day of your life.  You don’t take your job home with you –your job is home with you.

When you are a consultant, you have your own business. People think of themselves as simply doing a certain skill for a client, but there is more to it than that. You are running a business –even if it’s just a one person show. You have to have insurance. You have to sell yourself all the time. You have to keep yourself up to date to remain an expert in what you do. If you’re not an expert in your field, then you probably shouldn’t bother being a consultant. If you don’t know what you truly excel at, then you’re not an expert. This isn’t to say that you’re not good at what you do, but there is a difference between the two. The point is that you should be absolutely sure before diving into the consulting arena. It truly is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute.

You will spend a large chunk of your time as a consultant doing tasks that you may not have expected. This includes a lot of time doing research, staying current in your field, and reading –a lot. Even though you might not be actually working –you have to maintain your expertise in certain topics.  Being a consultant is unpredictable. If you get a good solid gig it will be great, but you have to know how to wait for the right opportunity or to take opportunities as they come. Be prepared to feast or famine. Working as a consultant, sometimes it’s like drinking water out of the fire hydrant and sometimes there’s no water to be found.

What are your thoughts on what it takes to be a consultant? What are the biggest benefits and the biggest pitfalls? What should you consider before jumping in? Comment below!