Part-Time or Full-Time?

I receive inquiries all the time about whether people can be successful entering the consulting profession part-time and transitioning to full-time, or even remaining as a part-time practitioner without giving up the “day job.”

The answer is: It depends upon your objectives.

First, let me define part-time work, since all of us are “part-timers” in that we’re virtually never engaged 40 hours a week on consulting work. A part-timer is someone who has other means of income in addition to consulting income, and those other means are substantial. This might include a full-time job with a high-tech company, another part-time job selling real estate, or ownership of an insurance brokerage.

A full-time practitioner is someone whose overwhelmingly predominant income flows from the consulting practice, although he or she might have other minor sources, such as investments, hobby income, and occasional work as a professor (as opposed to being a professor who consults on occasion).

Now, if your objectives are to make a little extra money, enhance your learning, respond to an urgent request from a friend who needs your help, provide variety in your life, and/or to try something different to see if you can do it, there’s nothing at all wrong with part-time consulting. Assuming you have the expertise (part-time consulting is usually reliant on a particular specialty) and the basic consulting skills, you can meet some or all of the objectives above. I’ve known people who have “dabbled” in the profession for over a decade, all the time maintaining other, primary sources of income, even though they might make close to six figures from their consulting practice in a good year.

However, if your objectives are to build a clientele, create a body of work, develop a large, primary source of income, gain visibility and credibility, be sought-out nationally and internationally, and/or to create equity in a company (albeit a personal services firm) which might attract a buyer someday, then full-time focus and commitment are required. Although few people need to consult 40 hours a week to gain those objectives, all of us have to be able to focus on them at will, continually, and without the distraction of obligations to employers.

The moral here is to keep your objectives clear (and they may change over time, naturally). There’s nothing wrong with “dabbling” if you’re legitimately improving the condition of your clients. Just don’t think that it will naturally metamorphose into full-time work and national recognition. There’s also nothing wrong with taking prudent risk and launching a full-time career. Just don’t think it can be maintained by sitting by the phone and awaiting that certain ring.

Five years ago I traveled 80% of the time. Last year, I traveled less than 25% of the time. I’m no less full-time now than I was then. Once you’re committed to your status, you can manage the variables. But you have to be honest and clear about what your commitment to, and expectations from, this profession are.