18 November 2022 By Guest writer Ian White
For many professionals and C-Suite executives who are reaching the end of their full-time careers (by choice or otherwise), the thought of spending all their time on the golf course or in the local spa, fills them with dread.
Of course, there are those who want to do nothing more than this – they have worked hard all their lives and they now just want to relax. Absolutely nothing wrong with that and I have certainly worked with executives who thrive on this type of life. However, for most of us we want some variety as well as to use the skills and experience that we have built up over the course of our working lives. One option is to build a portfolio of consultancy and similar type roles – perhaps including some pro bono ones as well as paid roles.
But how do you best go about building your portfolio? Next-Up asked if I would share my tips from having started and run my own consultancy
What skills could be useful to potential client?
Firstly, you need to make a realistic assessment of what you have to offer. What skills and experience have you built up that might be useful to potential clients? Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t do different work from that in your executive role – indeed there is little point in going to be a consultant if all you do is replicate your (former) day job. If that is the case, you might just as well extend your executive career.
What it does mean is repositioning your skills so that they can be used by different types of clients and for different types of work. Your network is going to be key here (we’ll come onto that) but one piece of advice I received early on is not to be too choosy!
When I trained as a mediator, I told one of my lawyer friends that I wanted to specialise in mediations for boards and directors (to complement the other work I do). His guidance was to take any reasonable mediation work to start with and build up my experience from there. It was sage advice. I have referred to it as the Bernard Cribbins’ approach to consultancy as the recently-departed but rarely out-of-work character actor said he was always grateful for any work, however big or small. Unless you have a unique and in-demand skill, taking this approach is the best course of action.
I have and, so far, have rarely not had work. That means I undertake work ranging from a one-day training event for a charity board to an extensive board effectiveness review for a FTSE 100. That brings variety as well as work!
Your network is key to winning consultancy work
Second, you need to assess how good your network is and if it isn’t extensive, build it up. It’s no good saying “I don’t like networking”. I am an introvert, but like most of my fellow consultants, nearly all my work comes through my network by referrals. The type of work I do – board reviews, executive coaching; mediation board/professional service firms consulting – isn’t work you can easily advertise. Certainly not if you want any degree of success.
You should think about networking as giving and receiving, and if it is an area you are weak on, talk to Next-Up who should be able to provide some guidance on this.
Platforms such as Linkedin are good starters but in this post-Covid world, going to face to face (or virtual) events is a must if you want to develop your network. And early on, never turn down an opportunity to meet someone; it is often those meetings that you think are a waste of time that yield the best results.
Be realistic about the work you are likely to win
Third, think about the types of roles you want to do and have a realistic chance of attaining. Many people want to undertake non-executive director roles but be sure you really want to do this: it is a long hard path for most and there are far more applicants than vacancies for paid roles.
And never, ever, tell a head-hunter or other recruiter that this a retirement option: you’ll be dead in the water if you do.
It is never too early to start: one aspect of diversity is age, and it is not uncommon to see NEDs going onto boards of major companies in their early 40s or even late 30s. So start as soon as you can.
Doing a trustee role first is a good way of developing the experience, particularly if you have little board experience. And there are many excellent courses out there which can help develop you in this area. Likewise with coaching and mediation, these provide great options but are hugely oversubscribed, so you need to assess whether you have the strength for the journey ahead. Again, getting training in this area from a reputable provider is a must and should help you develop your network too.
Setting up your own consultancy is not an easy option, but the variety of work is hugely stimulating and enjoyable.
Good luck to all those choosing this route for their unretirement!