Episode: 35 |
Sophia Dai:
Choosing Independence:


Sophia Dai

Choosing Independence

Show Notes

On today’s episode, the tables are turned, and our guest, Sophia Dai, interviews Will Bachman.

Sophia received her MBA from Kellogg and then spent the past two years at Boston Consulting Group.

Now a Senior Associate, she’s decided to leave BCG, and independent consulting is one path that she is considering.

Two or three or four times a week Will Bachman has a conversation with a top tier management consultant considering this option. This episode captures one such discussion.

In today’s episode , Will does his best to answer her questions  – including among others: why people decide to pursue the independent path, the first steps to take to start generating project opportunities, and the biggest mistakes people make when they start out.

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman: Hey there, podcast listeners. Welcome to unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top-tier independent management consultants. I’m your host Will Bachman. 

On today’s episode the tables are turned, and our guest interviews me. Sophia Dai received her MBA from Kellogg, and then spent the past two years at Boston consulting group. Now a senior associate, She’s decided to leave BCG. An independent consulting is one path that she is considering. Two, or three, or four times a week I have a conversation with a top-tier management consultant considering the option of independent consulting, and I thought it’d be fun to capture one of these discussions as an episode for the podcast. 

Sophia had a bunch of questions about independent consulting, and she was a great sport when I asked her if she would interview me for the show. In today’s episode, I do my best to answer her questions, including among others, why people decide to pursue the independent path, the first steps to take to start generating project opportunities, and the biggest mistakes I see people make when they start out. I enjoyed the discussion with Sophia, and I hope you find it helpful. Sophia It is great to have you on the show. 

Sophia Dai: Thank you. 

Will Bachman: So, today we’ll do something a little bit different from the normal podcast where I’m asking all the questions. You, and I had this idea that since you are interested in exploring independent consulting, and that you would ask me a bunch of questions, and I’ll do my best to give you a perspective on it. So, but before we jump into that, will you take the interviewer chair, maybe you could give a quick sketch of your situation right now, and the decision that you’re trying to make. 

Sophia Dai: Sure. So, I’ve been a consultant with BCG for a little over two years now, and I recently decided to leave. One, to gain a little bit more control over my life, but secondly to do something that’s more operational in nature. And, I realized that since I don’t really have direct operations experience, I was thinking of using independent consulting as a way to focus in, and really continue to explore industries, or functional areas, and then eventually transitioned there. 

So, I really wanted to understand a little bit more about independent consulting, where just the landscape is now, and really explore it as an option as I continue to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life for the rest of my career. 

Will Bachman: Fantastic. And, I probably have two, or three, or four conversations per week a with someone in your position. So, more and more folks-

Sophia Dai: Like me.

Will Bachman: Are leaving top-tier consulting firms, and trying to think about they maybe have a friend, or they’ve heard about people doing independent consulting. So, a lot of people are in your shoes, and I’m excited to hear what your questions are.

Sophia Dai: Well, do you see a lot of people with my tenure profile? Someone around the associate level, or early engagement managers with two, or three years of consulting experience coming in? Or, do you see people that have done consulting at a big firm for much longer going into independent consulting? 

Will Bachman: No, I see people of a wide range of tenures. I mean, I see people at your level of experience, and I see associate partners, I see partners leaving big firms. So, and even at the partner level, people are interested in trying to learn more about the ins and outs of the independent world, because at that level they’re used to selling big projects, $5,000,000 projects with lots of people. But, the independent world is a little bit different has some idiosyncrasies, and people at your level as well. 

I’d say for anybody who’s at a big firm, it’s good to stay at least the two years that you did. If you only stay for three months, or six months, or even one year, then a lot of folks are going to assume whether fair, or not that you might’ve been asked to leave. But, if you have a full two years under your belt, you’ve clearly passed a couple review cycles, and you’ve had multiple projects, you’ve done pages, and you’ve written documents. So, that’s a fine time to leave, and I see a range. 

In fact there’s probably a lot of demand at the senior associate level. So, there’s a lot of demand by other independent consultants for someone at your level to bring you onto their team, or by also just directly by clients who are looking for someone at that level. 

Sophia Dai: Has that been pretty steady, or is that something new that shifted over the past few years? 

Will Bachman: No, I don’t think it’s necessarily shifted. It’s I’d say It’s tough to draw real broad stroke assessments like that, but I’d say over the past 10 years there’s overall been I’d say an increasing demand for independent consultants, and an increasing supply of independent consultants. But, I wouldn’t necessarily say that there’s been a shift in the desire for people of different levels. There’s a lot of …

I mean, there’s just a lot of former McKinsey, Bain, BCG engagement managers who have left the firm after four, or five years who are now in industry roles, and they know how to manage a team, they know how to manage a senior associate. And, often they’re short staff they don’t have people just sitting on the beach, and they may have a project come up. So, they’re very comfortable managing someone with your level of experience, and they don’t need a full team from Boston Consulting Group to come. But, they need one capable person like yourself, and they know how to supervise, and run, and work with someone like yourself. 

Sophia Dai: What have you seen in terms of why people are looking into pursuing independent consulting? What are the main reasons? 

Will Bachman: Well, I’d say there’s several things. One is having a bit more control over your schedule, and personal life. So, now see people might get a little bit surprised, because it’s almost the reverse. When you’re at a big consulting firm at the earlier years, there’s often a stack of projects that are available to you when you roll off your last one, and you just have a menu to pick from, or at least express your preferences. It doesn’t work that way in the independent world where sometimes you have an enforced vacation, or time off when you’re looking for the next thing. 

So, I’d say, but you do have probably more opportunity to at least say no to things. In the big firms sometimes you’ll get some pretty strong pressure to say yes to something that you might not be super excited about. But, in the independent world you’re always free to say no. So, I think you can work on crafting a program whether it’s, I’m going to do an industry focus, or a functional focus, or geographic focus, or … So, that’s possible. 

I’d say another thing that’s more possible in the independent world is you have probably a little bit more choice in how focused you get. So, at a big firm to really succeed, you need to have a pretty focused program, and be the distinctive firm expert at that one thing.

Sophia Dai: Right.

Will Bachman: A pharmaceutical person who focuses on R&D, right? But, in the independent world it’s a little bit more feasible to be an industry generalist, or functional generalist, and work across a number of different areas. Because, So, it is also possible to really be super focused, but it’s possible to be a little bit more of a generalist. So, that’s the second thing.

I’d say a third reason is some people, even the more senior levels they … I had a big consulting firm the economic model is the senior partners, frankly, they’re doing a lot of their time doing client development a dirty word might be selling projects. And, some firms don’t like to use the word selling. But, frankly, you’re generating business client development, you’re pitching projects, And spending a lot of your time doing that. And, a lot of the time doing firm development efforts, knowledge development, people development, recruiting as opposed to project execution actually delivery of the actual work.

So, it’s tough for a partner to say, “I’m going to work four days a week in this one city on this one project.” The economic model rarely supports that, and some people like getting into the details, and really executing a piece of work. So, that’s another driver for people to do this. 

Sophia Dai: Though, It sounds like there’s a lot of good things for people that have done consulting for a longer amount of time. What would you say is the most challenging thing for someone that is at a senior associate level becoming an independent consultant? 

Will Bachman: Well, I think the challenges are common across all levels. So, most people who have experience at a top-tier consulting firm are going to be at least decent at executing the work, right? At a level appropriate to their level. So, someone with two years of experience at a Boston Consulting Group, or Bain, or BCG probably decent, right? There’s a very tight filter to get into those firms, there’s a lot of effort developing people. So, if you leave after two years you’re probably pretty good senior associate. If you left after for five years you’re a pretty good project manager engagement manager. 

So, most people are pretty good at the execution that I think the challenge to all levels is finding work, and finding the privilege of actually doing the work. So, that’s the tougher part that people at all levels have to crack. Now, the way you go about it might be slightly different depending on your level. So, if you’re more a senior associate level then it’s probably building relationships with other independent consultants who might bring you in on their projects. And, for that it’s invaluable, because there’s a lot of independent consultants out there who are at the post EM associate partner, partner level who are generating projects, and maybe they need a senior associate to join them. 

So, meeting those people, and getting to know them, and building relationships face to face, they’re much more likely to bring you onto to their stuff. There’s building relationships with the various kinds of intermediaries out there. And, then there’s also reaching out to your network, and maybe a former project manager who’s left the firm who’s now at a client who respects you, already wants … Would be happy to bring you onto something, or someone from business school. 

So, at the senior associate level it’s the same challenges as if you’re more senior, but you’re probably doing slightly different things. But, in both cases you have to build visibility among a set of potential buyers effectively among a set of decision makers. That set of decision makers might change as the dollar value, and size of their project changes.

Sophia Dai: Right. Are they’re more project based works for teams as opposed to individual? 

Will Bachman: So, I think that there’s both. An independent consultant can be really effective forming teams, and putting teams of independent consulting to consultants in this together, and often that’s a great value for a client. And, I definitely see that happening in the market. I’m certainly Umbrex, and my co-founder Jing Lang has multiple projects like that going with teams, and I think smart clients are doing that. 

I’d say that often clients when they’re thinking about a project they may think, “If this is a larger project that really requires a team.” Their initial thought might be, “If I need a team I need to go to a big consulting firm, because they have similar values, and processes, and people have worked together, and so forth.” So, they might bias towards that. Whereas, if they’re thinking, “Hey, this is a project where I need BCG, or McKinsey, or Bain Caliber Talent, but I only need one person.” Then, they’re going to think, “Oh, well why don’t I just get an independent consultant as opposed to going to a big firm.” 

Now, the reality is that often, there’s groups of independent consultant, certainly members of Umbrex who have known each other for a decade, and have worked together off, and on over that time, and have a shared approach, and shared values, and maybe they all were alums of the same firms. So, they grew up with the same training who are, except for the same dollar value, same price. You can actually get much more experienced people who do also know each other, and sometimes, certainly you and I were both at a big firm. Sometimes at a big firm you’re working with the team you’ve never met before, right? So, that assumption about, “Oh big consulting firm it’s a team that works together,” may not always be true. But, that may be people’s assumption. 

Sophia Dai: Do you see that shifting mindset happening more and more, that people are more aware now that they have another option as opposed to just hiring straight from a big consulting firm?

Will Bachman: I think the recognition is really growing, and I think there’s still probably a lot more growth that’s going to happen. Number of different firms have really invested in building awareness, and both through articles like in the Harvard Business Review, the Supertramp article that came out about five years ago, I think was a breakthrough in that. And, then the sales efforts of various staffing firms to reach out, and contact alums of top-tier firms, and let them know that things are available has just grown the pie, and raise the visibility, and awareness, and acceptance. But, I’d say that it’s still … There’s still a lot of penetration left to happen, and still some clients have never done it before, and haven’t thought about it. 

Sophia Dai: So, realistically what percentage of work that you do is clients that are coming to you saying they need help versus you going to them, and trying to pitch, I don’t know sell them work?

Will Bachman: Yeah, I’ve actually surveyed members of Umbrex on that exact question. And, I think that in the independent world, and I should probably mention here, and give applaud to David A. Fields, and his book, ‘The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning clients’ which I really recommend to all independent consultants. It has some really great advice for people running either an independent, or a boutique firm. He makes the point that it’s a whole lot easier to sell something what they want when they’re looking for it than to try to convince them to buy something that you think that they ought to buy, but they’re not currently excited about, right? 

So, I’d say over 90% of the work independent consultants do is where the client all ready has a need, and recognizes that need. So, and so they’ve already made the decision. “We need help on this issue, and we’re going to go external for that.” And, it’s just a matter of them finding the right person versus going to a client, and saying, “Hey, you should be saving money on office supplies, and let me convince you that you can save 10% on office supplies, and I’ll do an analysis, and prove it to you. And, if I can prove it to you, you can hire me, and I’ll do that.” That’s much harder to do. 

It’s much easier, much easier. It’s the CEO’s top priority, CEO’s banging the table, “We need to get this done.” And, the SVPS are scrambling, and VPs are scrambling to find someone to help them do it. It’s much easier in that case to say, “Yeah, I can help you do that.” Boom. “Okay. Start on Monday.” 

Sophia Dai: So, You mentioned earlier in terms of building relationships, and how do you source projects.  And, you said that there are some intermediaries out there too that help to consolidate, and have projects to match people with. I guess early on in your career, how much of that was you got to pitch through, and go through different types of projects as opposed to scrambling to find a place too that aggregated people’s needs?

Will Bachman: So, there’s I’d say two categories of firm that are intermediate, two categories of intermediaries. There’s platforms, and then there’s brokers if you will. So, the platforms you create online tool where a company can post a need, and then lots of people can bid on it, or submit their resume, or put a pitch, and the client then has to go through, and sort through all those different people, and pick one, right?

Sophia Dai: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Will Bachman: And, there’s definitely some things to recommend for that. I mean the biggest one in the US is a Catalant. C-A-T-A-L-A-N-T, formerly known as HourlyNerd they’re transitioning their name. There a big one in Europe called COMATCH, I believe mostly in Germany, and there’s probably some other ones. So, that’s an upscale version of Upwork which is …

Sophia Dai: Great.

Will Bachman: Upwork is the biggest platform for freelancers in the world. Mostly, which is typically not top-tier consultants on that. It’s more like a writers, and people who do Internet research, or programmers, SEO stuff like that. But, an upscale version of that where it’s a online marketplace. 

Those can be great source of projects for independent professionals, right? And, they definitely fill a niche in the market. One thing that I understand about those, is if you’re going to play on one of those as an independent, then one thing that clients are doing is they’re going to be screening people based on the number of reviews they have, and how good those reviews are. So, you have to commit to it, or not. If you’re not in it serious, then you’re not going to have reviews, and if you don’t have reviews, it’s tough to get projects. So, you have a little chicken, and the egg problem.

Sophia Dai: Right.

Will Bachman: So, you need to either do it, or not do it, but there is no a halfway thing. You can’t just easily just dip in, or out, because the clients are picking you. I’d say on the other end of the spectrum is the brokers, and there’s a number of fine firms that I have a lot of respect for. Business talent group, a-connect, Highpoint Associates in the US. A-connect is even stronger, and bigger in Europe. And, Umbrex also does this work of helping clients find independent consultants. So, with those kind of firms, it’s typically not like you can just log in, and see everything that they’re working on. 

Typically, they’ll have a human who intermediates, and gets a project need. And, then searches through their database of talent to find someone that they think would be good, and reaches out proactively just to that one person, or handful of people to check their availability. So, usually you don’t just see, “Okay. Here’s the 17 things things that that stuffing firm is trying to staff right now.” And say, “Hey, raise your hand I wanted a number five.” It’s like you have to sit by the phone, and wait for them to call you. 

So, for those you can’t … There’s no brainer to sign up, and be part of the talent pool, but you also can’t count on it for to survive. You can’t count that that flow is going to work, because they have big, big talent pools typically. And, a small number of projects compared to the talent pool. They’ll say they have 8,000 people in their talent pool, or 10,000. Well, they don’t have 8,000 projects going on. So-

Sophia Dai: Right.

Will Bachman: You might wait a long time for them to call you. And, some people do a lot, some people get on their radar screen early, and they’re doing one after the other, and they’re the go to people. Then, some people will never get the call, some people might get five calls, but none of the projects ever pan out. So, they’re a no brainer to get on their radar screen, but you can’t count on them, count on it.

Sophia Dai: Do people sign up for your multiple intermediary? Or broker [inaudible 00:22:11].

Will Bachman: Yeah. So, none of whom that I know of expect you to be exclusive, right? So-

Sophia Dai: Okay.

Will Bachman: All of them recognize that the talent pools have a lot of overlap, and they have various different screening mechanism. So, you can’t necessarily … They each have their own processes, but typically there’s … Most of them have some online place where you can register, but then they may vet you through some interview process, and may want you to go through some orientation, or some vetting process. So, you can’t just by default get into their talent pool, there’s usually some process to validate you. 

Sophia Dai: So, what would you recommend for someone that’s getting into, and then consulting brand new? It sounds it makes a lot of sense to just go ahead, and sign up for these networks, and then at the same time, would you say go to on the platforms, and look for projects there?

Will Bachman: Part of it is about a longterm decision. About what is the strategy for your firm.

Sophia Dai: Right.

Will Bachman: Right? What are you trying to accomplish? You want to start from that in mind. So, you mentioned earlier on the call that your objective is eventually to get an operational role in a company, right? 

Sophia Dai: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Will Bachman: So, that’s a different objective than other people might have of Longterm they want to just be an independent for the rest of their life, and they’re happy doing any project. Or, some people might want to focus on a geography, or an industry, or a function. So, you need to get your strategies straight. What kind of projects you want to do. So, for you it’s, okay, you want to work backwards. So, if you want to work in operational role of a accompany, I would say think about:

  1. Is there a geography that you eventually want to land in, and want to work in? Is there an industry that you want to eventually focus in? Or, is there a function you want to focus in? And, then so you know ahead of time what to say no to, right? If you want to go into retail, or CPG then you probably shouldn’t be taking an industrial project in Calgary, Right?

Sophia Dai: Right.

Will Bachman: So, but then I would say, again, I’ll refer to David’s book ‘The Irresistible Guide to Winning clients’ That is almost a step by step guide of how to think about getting into it. So, first you want to figure out what’s your strategy? What is your positioning of your practice? And, number two, then it’s you want to work on, how do you raise your visibility?

So, there’s a number of ways to raise your visibility. You don’t need to do all of them, but you need to do some. So, one is writing, one would be speaking, both of those were around creating knowledge. One is building relationships, or reestablishing relationships, and then another one would be going out to industry events. So, building relationships could mean joining a community like Umbrex of other independent professionals, and going to the social events, or professional development events that we run, so you can meet other people face to face. 

Another one would be finding independent consultants, maybe from BCG, or from your grad school, in your area, and just going, and having coffee with them, and building those relationships. Not expecting any one particular is going to lead to a project today. But, if you get to know … If you’re a capable senior associate from BCG, and you’re available, and you talk to 30 people who are slightly more senior. One of them is going to either need you, or they’re going to know somebody else, a client, or another independent consultant who needs some support, right? It’s like the math is going to work out. 

So, I’d say I’d do some of those things in parallels. Sign up with various intermediaries, and then it also depends. So, if you were really focused on a particular sector, and I should ask you, are you? Is there like a particular sector that’s- 

Sophia Dai: Not at the moment. I think I’m still exploring, but functionally I would like-

Will Bachman: Confirm.

Sophia Dai: To focus in on putting systems in place that help the business to run better.

Will Bachman: Great. So, then something like yourself, something that … Someone like yourself could do would be, start building some expertise around that topic, and there’s a few ways to do that. One would be simply just read about it. Mm-hmm (affirmative), okay. Another one would be, be reading about what’s going on in that space, and even operations is pretty broad topic, right? So, are you talking about supply chain? Are you talking about order to cash? Or whatever. 

Pick some topic, and become expert at it. So, you can just study it, number one. But, then how do you start building a name for yourself? You could interview industry experts on that topic, and write a blog post on each one, right? Or, and I recommend this, and it’s a little bit meta, but you could create a podcast on that particular topic, and it works it’s circular in a virtuous cycle. It gives you a reason to reach out to someone, and say, “Hey, I’d love to interview for my podcast.” Sounds more powerful than, “Hey, I’d like to just talk to you, and waste an hour of your time, Right?

Sophia Dai: Yeah right.

Will Bachman: But, functionally it’s the same thing. But, the first one sounds better Like, “Oh, I’ll be on a podcast.” So, if you are interested in operations, you could say, “All right, I’m going to start my podcast, and it’s going to be on operational improvement, and I’m going to reach out to VPs of operations at wide range of firms, and just talk to them about some operational improvement that they’ve done that they’re proud of.” And, it gives them a reason to brag, and talk about, “Oh, here at the pet food company, we have reduced waste of raw ingredients by doing XYZ.” And, you could talk about that, and they get to promote their firm, and you learn something, and you build a relationship with them at the same time you’re learning something. And, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to get 100,000 downloads per episode. 

The circle of people that you care about is small, right? You just need one VP of operations to notice you, and hire you. And, it gives you a reason to reach out to people, and a reason to interact. Then, even if they haven’t, it’s not as if they even have to have heard it ahead of time. If you meet with someone, then you can say, “Hey, I do the operational improvement podcast. Here’s a link to it.”

Sophia Dai: Right.

Will Bachman: It gives you credibility than after the fact like, “Wow, the person is really serious.” And, not just saying, “Oh, I want to learn about operations.” But no, she’s serious, she’s done 50 episodes of a podcast about interviewing 50 different VPs. This person is super serious about it, Right? 

Same thing with a blog. I mean, you could interview people, and write a summary notes, and write a blog post on it. So, you could think about also writing … A blog post are great on your own blog. David, I think makes the point that it’s even more powerful if it’s published in something that has credibility. So, you could think about finding the lean operations trade journal for a hospitals, or something, and-

Sophia Dai: Right.

Will Bachman: Right for that, and get. If you put in monthly column there, then it really gives credibility. I’m the operational improvement columnist for hospitaloperations.com. Oh, Wow. That’s really impressive.

Sophia Dai: Are there any particular industries that you’ve seen that tend to have higher demand for independent consultants? 

Will Bachman: You know, I think there’s … My experiences just about everything that top-tier consulting firms do. There’s now independent consultants who have left those firms, and are now serving those same industries. So, I’ve seen everything from mining to financial services to healthcare to high tech to Telekom, CPG, retail. I mean, I haven’t seen a big blank spot of places that say, “No we don’t hire consultants.” Or, ” We don’t hire independent consultants.”

Sophia Dai: On the flip side is there a sweet spot? I think that are more time for independent consultants probably either at the price point, or whatever it is that big firm that play in a different area than the big firms do either company size maybe, or. 

Will Bachman: Company size. One thing is, I don’t know if that position is a sweet spot, but one thing is that I’d say the possible array of clients is broader in the independent world. So, if you’re at a top-tier firm, the margins, and the prices are high enough that it’s tough for some clients outside the fortune 500 to fortune 1000 to afford the fees. Whereas, independent consultants one can be a little bit more flexible in terms of the model. They can do one day a week, two days a week, two days a month long and lean, or they can do a one week project, or a two day offsite. Because, you don’t have to sort of satisfy that whole pyramid structure.

So, they can be a little more flexible, and typically the prices for the same person per day are lower. So, you can expand the possible range down to clients with $10,000,000 of revenue, or less. Whereas those kind of clients would be not interesting at all to a partner at a big firm, right?

Sophia Dai: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Have you talked to any people that are exploring independent consulting? Maybe they’ve tried it for … Then they might jump in, and try it for a little bit, but then realize it’s not for them. What would their main reasons be for leaving? What are things to watch out for? Mistakes that they might make or. 

Will Bachman: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there’s a huge survivorship bias. So, a lot of people come in, and try it for a while, and test the waters, and decided it’s not for them which is fine, right? And, then go back, and take another role. So, definitely a lot of people coming in, and not everybody comes in, and says, “I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.”

I’d say the reasons people leave are various, and the reason people start are various. Some people intentionally are maybe taking a little bit of a break from corporate life, but always plan to go back. And, we’re just taking a breather, or maybe they needed flexibility to take care of a family member, or something like that. So, they more use it as a chance to take a little break, evaluate options, and date a little bit before they get married with the next firm. Other people might be loving independent consulting, but then they … 

What sometimes happens is you go work for a client, and you love that client. It’s a great situation, and they love you, and you’re excited about the impact you’re having, and it just makes sense. They give you an offer you can’t refuse, and you decide to stay, right? So, that happens, and then possibly as a contributing factor. Sometimes people … I mean, it is a little bit of a feast, or famine. It can be a really scary when you’re between projects, and you don’t have anything in the pipeline.

And, some people maybe that is just not working out, and it’s a little bit too frightening. And you’re, you want to decide, “Okay, I just need the stability of an income to take care of my family, or my financial needs.” And, so people return to a more stable income. 

Sophia Dai: Are there any common mistakes that you see in people that are jumping in new, or any the misconception that new independent consultants have coming in? 

Will Bachman: Well, I’d say that one thing that I would offer is that I see some people coming in, and not treating it seriously not treating it professionally, right? They come in with the attitude, “Hey, I’m just going to test this out for six months, and see how it goes, But I’m really looking for a full time job.” Right? So, my advice is either, I mean, if you’re looking for a full time job, look for a full time job make that your job, right? If what you really want is a full time job then do that, and be a professional about that. Treat that itself like a 40 hour, 60 hour week job, and do all that stuff that job search books say you should do, right?

If you’re serious about independent consulting then treat yourself like a professional, get yourself a professional email address, all right? Get yourself some professional business cards, get yourself a name for your firm, and so you’re not just sort of independent consultant, but you’re the managing partner of the Pointer Group, or Scott and company, or Think Point Associates, right?

So, brand yourself, treat yourself like a pro. Get yourself a url, get email, and grow up, and act like a pro, right? And, then come up with a plan and say, “Okay. I’m in this. I’m serious about it.” You’re not signing in blood you can to do it for the rest of the life, but say, “Okay, the next year and a half I’m going to develop a strategy for my practice. I’m going to work on, invest time in building my visibility, and rebuilding, reestablish, and growing relationships, and I’m going to work on developing business, I’m going to treat this as a real firm.” And, not just like, “Oh, I’m just going to see if anybody throws me some work, and if it does that’s really nice.” Those people end up washing out. 

Sophia Dai: So, If there’s someone that says, “This sounds exciting, I’m really serious about trying independent consulting, and exploring it.” Do you think they should set up an LLC, or S corp right away? Or, do they just go out, and start doing projects, and doing that as they go? 

Will Bachman: So, I surveyed Umbrex members on the structure, and about 75 to 80% people use an LLC. About 20% of people use an S corp. So, there’s reasons for both. I’m actually planning to do a podcast, interview an attorney to walk through those pluses and minuses. Last year we did at a top-tier event. We had attorney come in from Golden Bach, and present the pros and cons, and so either one of those is fine. But, I’d say do one of the other, and if you’re not sure, an llC is elected majority choice, and by the way it costs like 200 bucks, and it takes about 15 minutes online. So, I mean it’s not absolutely required you can get away with using your social security number, and so forth. 

But, again if you’re going to do this why not set up an LLC, and treat yourself like a professional, and come up with a name for your firm. Don’t just call it like if your name is Will Bachman just call it Will Bachman ink, or will Bachman LLC. Come up with a name for your firm, and get an LLC, and it has … And, talk to your accountant about doing the … How to treat your taxes properly, and how to account for all that stuff. But, I’d say yeah, I mean if you’re going to do it, get an LLC, and be serious about it. 

Sophia Dai: Okay. So, I’m hearing that you saying that do it sooner than later.

Will Bachman: Yeah. Why would you wait?

Sophia Dai: Just get it over with.

Will Bachman: Yeah, just get it over with. I mean just do it now. So, you have from the very beginning, from your very first project you have a firm, a name, a branded email, a domain. Even if you don’t build a website at least you’ll have a branded email, and if you buy a domain on GoDaddy, or other registrar at the very minimum you can redirect that to your LinkedIn profile, Right? So-

Sophia Dai: Right.

Will Bachman: So, you can get business cards, and on your first contracts with clients is not just with Sophia LLC … Sophia, it’s with the Sophia Group, right? Or, LLC. It just sounds more professional. 

Sophia Dai: Right. And, I know that you have a podcast episode, ‘The 27 steps to start up your firm’ So, I’ll definitely take a look at that. 

Will Bachman: Yeah. I had to pick an odd number. I like crazy number. 

Sophia Dai: Well, any last minute thoughts, or pieces of advice for someone that’s exploring, thinking about independent consulting? 

Will Bachman: I’d say, read David’s book, read the ‘Trusted Advisor’ by David Maister. I’d say, if you’re going to do it, do it seriously, be a pro, and turn pro, and treat it seriously. It’s not a life and death decision that you can’t change at a year in, but enter it with a plan, and enter it intending to do it for the longterm. So, I have a mental model that I call, ‘The five decade time horizon’ where I try to think about not just five weeks, or five months ahead, but what do I want my life to play out over the next five decades professionally? Which is maybe a little ambitious given I’m middle aged at this point. 

But, nevertheless if that’s your framework, and that’s how you’re thinking about it, you start playing the infinite game instead of one off game. So, you start thinking about, “Okay, I’m willing to invest in this relationship even though it’s not going to pay me off anything in the next year, or two years, right? But, I’ll invest, because eventually the Karma it’ll come back to me.”

So, if you reproach the whole process like that like, “I’m going to start investing in building visibility now.” And, there’s a good ROI, but it’s going to take five years for that to come to fruition, start now. It’s like if you want to have an orchard you’ve got to plant the trees now. If you want fruit in five years, you can’t wait five years. So, start planting those trees now. 

Sophia Dai: Thank you. Thank you for all your advice, and your thoughts on this. I really appreciate your time. 

Will Bachman: Hey, it’s-

Sophia Dai: And, this new formats, and letting me interview you. 

Will Bachman: It was super fun. I was on the hot seat. And, I guess the final parting thought is, one of the biggest returns I believe you can get from your time is build relationships with peers, and with other independent professionals, right? So, that’s why we created Umbrex to create a community that connects top-tier independent consultants with one another.

So, find a community, help build community, get to know other independent consultants, and help them out, and eventually that is a great way of going to peers, is a great way to do that visibility raising, because they’ll end up spreading the word, and pulling you into stuff. 

Sophia Dai: Great advice. Thanks again.

Will Bachman: Hey, thank you so much. It was really a pleasure being a guest on my own show. Thank you for helping make it possible. 

Sophia Dai: No problem.

Will Bachman: Thanks for listening to this episode of unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top-tier independent management consultants. The mission of Umbrex is to create opportunities for independent management consultants to meet, share lessons learned, and collaborate. I’d love to get your feedback, and hear any questions that you’d like to see us answer on this show. You can email me at unleashed@umbrex.com. That’s U-M-B-R-E-X.com.

If you found anything on the show helpful, it would be a real gift If you would let a friend know about the show. And, take a minute to leave a review on iTunes, Google play, or Stitcher, and if you subscribe our show will get delivered to your device every Monday. Our audio engineer is Dave Nelson, Our theme song was composed by Gary Neg Bauer, and I’m your host Will Bachman. Thanks for listening.

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