Starting an Independent Consulting Business – Living Without a Net

Updated: Mar 20

It’s interesting how seeing someone else do something unconsciously sows a seed in you that manifests into you doing something similar. Like the first time I saw someone driving a Tesla. I was immediately enamoured, and started noticing Teslas everywhere. Similarly, my decision to venture out on my own as an independent consultant came about after seeing a previous co-worker who became a friend take the plunge. At the time our situations were somewhat similar – number of years working full time, job function work experience, and known to the client base of our previous employer. Fortunately, we didn’t have to worry about non-compete restrictions as these clauses had not yet become a routine part of employment agreements. My friend was married with young children, and I was married with my first child on the way. How could I rationalize that quitting my full time job when going off on maternity leave made sense? We were in the material acquiring stage of our lives, house poor, living paycheque to paycheque, with savings to keep us afloat for a couple months. Could we live without a net and survive on one paycheque?

Operating my own business meant marketing, sales, bookkeeping, reputation, ethics, product quality, basically everything to do with the business would all fall on my shoulders. I was comfortable with some aspects of running a business, while areas like sales and marketing had me feeling anxious as I didn’t consider myself a natural sales person and didn’t have personal connections in business that I could call on to help open doors. However, what gave me the confidence to take that leap and to take the risk was that I had experience writing computer programs in a niche language that was in demand, technology was an emerging industry, and I had an established reputation with a number of companies to form my sales pipeline. This along with the fact that the only start-up capital needed was to incorporate the business, gave me the courage to start my own consulting business while on maternity leave. The timing worked because being home allowed me to use my free time to advertise my availability and to drum up business. I knew that if the business was unsuccessful, our family wouldn’t be any worst off financially, and my fallback would be to find full time employment at the end of my maternity leave.

What I didn’t give enough consideration to though, were the requirements for government filings for such things as payroll source deductions, Corporation taxes, PST/GST/HST; Workplace Safety Insurance (WSIB), liability insurance, and the ever evolving technology industry. When I ventured out as an independent, the industry was still in its infancy, where standards, education and competency expectations were not yet clearly defined. Anyone working in the field, referred to their career as, ‘I’m into computers’. Like current times, technology was evolving at a rapid pace going from mainframe systems, to mini computers, to desktops, to laptops, to personal digital assistant devices for phone, texting and emailing (eg. Blackberry RIM, Compaq iPaq) in the blink of an eye. New programming languages such as Java, HTML had emerged, rendering my repertoire of programming languages obsolete (Basic, COBOL, PL, C+, Assembler), and declined my marketability.

Fortunately, Technology Project Management was trending up as a new job function that I saw as a fit for my client account management skills and software company experience. So I capitalized on these to rebrand myself as a Project Manager. This meant, pausing my independent consulting business for a period of time while I worked as a full time employee. At the time, the unappreciated silver lining was the wealth of knowledge I gained about how to get things done in a large corporation, what drives the thinking of executives, and professional development training. By the time I was ready to restart my independent consulting business, I had my Project Manager certification, lived experience as the acting CIO for a major high tech company and hands-on management of a technology team within a major Canadian bank.

My work ethic, maintaining high standards for work quality, and ability to orchestrate achieving a desired goal has contributed to my success and has earned the respect of team members, peers and executives which has resulted in a network of referrals for job opportunities for which I am forever grateful. It’s been over 15 years since I restarted the business. Fears and self-doubt still find their way into my thinking, but knowing that I persevered this long and the phone still rings with unexpected opportunities, helps to keep them at bay while I continue to bet on me.

A note of advice – set your mind to embrace opportunities as they are presented, manifested or created for you to feel. By the way, I now own a Tesla.

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