Is Your Career Fragile or Agile?

Creating Career Agility Through Consulting

How many people do you know who have worked for the same company for more than 10 years? Fifteen years? How about 20 years?

How many people in your network have worked at the same company for their entire careers?

When I started proposal writing in 1997, quite a few friends and family members had retired or were planning to retire from the only employer they had known. They eased into their career sunsets with generous retirement packages that included health insurance and pensions.

However, it was clear to me more than 20 years ago that times were changing. Through contributions to employer-sponsored 401K plans, self-funded retirement was replacing the employer-funded retirement that pensions offered, and the concept of loyalty between employer and employee was waning.

In addition to this changing landscape between work and worker, the job market is changing, especially recently. A Feb. 18, 2021, Wall Street Journal article reported that jobless claims had increased to 861,000 in early February and remained above the “pre-pandemic peak” of 695,000 before lockdowns in the United States began March 2020. While the economy is improving with the increase of those with the COVID-19 vaccination, its recovery is still in progress.

So, what can we do, aside from hope for the best, as uncontrollable circumstances impact the job market every day? We can be agile. Yes, agile.

Agile is defined as “quick and well-coordinated in movement” and “marked by an ability to think quickly.” How, then, do we become agile in our careers and finances? We can expand our options by exploring what it takes to become a consultant using the skills we have mastered in proposal management.

Why Consultancy?

Many organizations may not fully understand what a bid and proposal professional does — or that they even exist — which makes you a subject-matter expert and a well-kept secret with a unique value proposition. These organizations may struggle to respond to RFPs and manage vendor registrations, certifications, proposal libraries and content libraries, not to mention capture strategies and internal compliance. The need is there, so why not explore the possibilities?

I began consulting full-time in 2018. Over the past three years, I have intentionally developed relationships with other consultants. I have served as chair of the APMP Greater Midwest Chapter’s Consultants Virtual Networking Group for two years, an initiative I proposed to the chapter board in 2019.

I have learned a lot about consulting from starting my business and others who have shared their experiences. It can be tempting to jump right in, but before you do, there a few things you should take into consideration that will help you get off to a good start.

Covering Your Assets

Managing risk and compliance is a critical aspect of our role as proposal professionals. You will also need to manage risk and compliance as a business owner. Knowing the regulatory environment, organizing and managing your business finances, obtaining insurance and getting all agreements in writing — and signed — will protect your personal and business assets.

  • Compliance. Research how to comply with the business regulations where you live, including at the city, county, state and federal levels. You will need to learn how to legally establish your business and keep it compliant, as you may need to file annual reports. You will also want to learn about the taxes you will be held responsible for and how you file returns.
  • Money management. Managing your money is an essential aspect of managing business risk. Research and create a plan for managing your business finances. Track your income and expenses. Keep your records, including receipts and invoices, organized and up to date. You likely already have this in place for your personal income and expenses. It is critical to set this up for your business and best practice to separate your personal and business finances.
  • Insurance. You have probably seen certificates of insurance for your employer, as RFPs frequently require them. If you are starting your own business, you will want to acquire insurance for your consultancy. There are different types of insurance for your business, some of which include property, liability, and errors and omissions. You can work with a local insurance agent or find an insurance company online that will recommend the policies to protect your business.
  • Agreements outline how you work, compensation terms, what your clients can expect of you and what you expect of your clients. They also protect intellectual property and business relationships. Once you arrive at a verbal agreement with each client, document it, sign the contract and obtain your client’s signature. Written and signed consulting, non-disclosure and non-compete agreements provide transparency, set the tone for your work, and protect you and your business.
  • Technology. When you are an employee, your employer provides you with the technology you need, usually a laptop and relevant software. With few exceptions, consultants supply their own equipment and software licenses. It might be tempting to use the laptop provided by your full-time employer for some side work, but this is not good practice. Just as you separate your personal and business finances, separate your employer-issued and consulting equipment and licenses.

Defining Your Business Goals

Once you have done the background and compliance work, there are just a few more decisions to make. It is good to know what your goals are. For example, do you wish to consult:

  • Now or in the future?
  • Part-time or full-time?
  • As a side hustle or as your primary source of income?

You also get to decide whether you wish to work one-to-one as a solopreneur, as a consultant working through an agency or as an agency owner with a team supporting multiple clients.

Getting to Work

When you are ready to start finding clients, attend APMP events, find networking groups and request one-on-one meetings with other members to expand your network. Reach out to your existing network, too, both personal and professional. Share information about your new mode of work and ask your connections if they or someone they know might benefit from your help. LinkedIn is also a great place to post news, updates and articles about your business and work.

As you explore what it takes to become a consultant, connecting with others is essential. Consider reaching out to agencies in the industry to learn about how they work with consultants and what opportunities are available. The APMP Greater Midwest Chapter’s Consultants Virtual Networking Group is open to all APMP members, regardless of your primary chapter. In addition, your APMP membership provides access to helpful resources, such as the on-demand webinar, “Making the Move from Employee to Consultant,” presented by Melissa Cothran, CP APMP.

Ready for an Agile Career?

I have heard business coaches state that if you look around and see successful consultants doing what you do, that is evidence it can be a successful business. Becoming a consultant may not be easy, but it might make all the difference when you need additional resources. Whether you are consulting to make ends meet, earn income between full-time jobs or looking for a new way to make a difference doing the work you love, knowing how to consult gives you control over your career as well as financial stability.

Caryn Kent Dean, MLIS, CP APMP, managing partner, founded Once Upon an RFP in 2018 after more than 20 years in the industry. She has consistently created order from chaos, working with businesses to stabilize and grow their revenues, and actively participates in APMP as a Greater Midwest chapter board member and mentor.

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