5 reasons why the solo consultant lifestyle isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Before I begin, I want to say this: I LOVE my job as a solo consultant. It’s everything I thought it would be–and much, much more. It’s fulfilling. It gives me creative liberty. It gives me the flexible schedule I need. Financially, it’s been great (and I’ll leave it at that). And, I just couldn’t imagine a better job for me, personally.
But, that all comes with some substantial drawbacks. And, that’s what I want to talk about today.
You see, when people think about solo consultants, they think about the lazy Friday afternoons you might spend by the lake (never happens). Working in your slippers in the office (I do this, actually). And catching a movie on a Wednesday afternoon between client meetings (have only done this ONCE in four years–and it was very late in the day on a Friday).
Basically, they see all the potential benefits of the solo lifestyle, and none of the hardships.
But, in reality, there are plenty of drawbacks to this line of work. People just don’t talk about them that much.
Over the last four years, I’ve noticed a number of reasons the solo lifestyle isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I don’t share these with you to complain (remember, love my job). Or, to scare you. Just to give you a realistic view of what being a solo is all about.
If you want glamour, you’ve come to the wrong place
You think what I do is glamorous? Let me recount my “glamorous” lifestyle this week. Worked from home 4 of the 5 days. That other day, I had a couple client meetings on-site. During the days I work from home, I rarely leave my computer. I’m either writing or scouring the web literally the entire day. I take a break to go get my kids, eat lunch and get them to bed (no real “lunch break” with co-workers). Then I’m back at it in the evening. I usually watch at least one show a night with my wife (recently, it was House of Cards, which I highly recommend), but that’s about it. I only see other humans when I have client meetings or when I set up coffee meet-ups with others. Somedays I spend the whole day working in my pajamas (you would think that would be a perk, but it actually makes you feel like a slob, which is why most days I’ll purposefully get dressed in the morning even if I’m working from home the entire day). Very glamorous, right?
Try going to an event like BlogWorld or SXSW as a solo. You’re chatting with folks who work at Target. Sony. Kraft. Olgilvy. Weber Shandwick. All brands and agencies you recognize instantly, right? Who recognizes ACH Communications (or Arik Hanson, for that matter)? I’ll tell you who: Nobody. OK, maybe not nobody, but I will tell you that the folks who work for those big companies and agencies have a LOT more credibility in that environment than someone like me. Personally, I’m fine with it. But, this line of work is not for the insecure. If you like the title. You like the credibility. And you like the cache of working for a big agency or organization, this world is not for you.
The hours actually suck
You think the hours will be better, but in reality they’re just as tough as “agency hours.” Yes, you can definitely mold the schedule to fit your needs–that part is great. No question. But, the simple fact remains: You work in a billable system and you have to bill the hours. So, you work a lot of hours (provided you have–and want–the work). I sub-contract out some of my work (community management, a bit of writing and research as needed), but at the end of the day, the hours are pretty tough. Go in eyes wide open on that one.
Vacations are non-existent
But Arik, I see you going on vacations regularly with your family on Instagram (I take a lot of pics of my vacays on IG). It’s true, I vacation regularly. But, my vacations are shorter (usually 3-5 days at most usually). And, keep in mind, the phone/email is NEVER off. I’ve rarely taken a vacation where I wasn’t working. When I worked on the corporate/agency side, I almost always completely unplugged on vacation. Now, that seems like a thing of the past. My new plan: Organize four vacations each year–but vacations that are a bit shorter. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, I figure if I was working on the corporate side, I’d have 4-6 weeks of vacation by now (that’s about how much my wife has), so I figure why shouldn’t I take a couple weeks for myself? The vacations are shorter on purpose–so I can take them more frequent without impacting client work all that much. But, that two-week vacation to Hawaii? Yeah, that’s going to have to wait for a while.
A lack of teamwork (mostly)
Maybe the thing I miss most about not working for an agency/company? The utter lack of teamwork I have as a solo. No one to brainstorm with. No one to bounce ideas off. No one to chat with while I make coffee. No one to talk about the Twins game last night. No one. I try to schedule a couple coffees/happy hours a week to get myself out in the flow–and that definitely helps. And, I do have a few accounts where I work with other contractors–but I rarely “see” them. When things get busy, it’s just me. And it sucks. Hard.
So, those are the drawbacks–and challenges–of the solo lifestyle. Like I said at the outset, there are plenty–and truth be told, many more–of reasons I love my job. But, I would be a fool if I didn’t recognize the drawbacks. I just work to find creative solutions to manage those challenges a bit better (shorter, more frequent, vacations, for example).
For my solo consultant friends out there, did I hit the mark here? Miss any drawbacks?
Note: Photo courtesy of veo via FlickR Creative Commons.