In 1993, I sat down with my boss – the last boss I’ve ever had – and said, “I’m giving you two year’s notice.”
To his credit, he didn’t laugh. He looked at me, a little confused, and said, “What are you talking about?”
“I’m starting a consulting business,” I said, “and I’m going to do it a little at a time.”
“OK,” he said. “Tell me more.”
The fundraiser’s life: Ask, thank, repeat, repeat, repeat…
I had begun my nonprofit career in 1980, right out of college, and progressed through five organizations, working primarily as a staff fundraiser.
The jobs were stimulating and satisfying, but also a bit repetitious. If you’ve ever worked in fundraising, you know that it’s all about the annual calendar: mailings, newsletters, grant proposals, benefit events, end-of-year asks, etc.
At some point, I figured, the repetition would bore me. Who wants that?
It was time for a new employment plan.
Why start a consulting business?
My decision to launch my own business began with four assumptions.
1. Over time, I had developed enough on-the-ground expertise to support and train others.
2. I was self-confident enough (or arrogant enough!) to believe I could be effective in this role.
3. Based on my informal market research – mostly talking with nonprofit peers and consultants – there was a business opportunity.
4. Given the modest salaries at my many grassroots employers, I suspected I could earn more money working for myself.
More than twenty years on, it’s a pleasure to report that all these assumptions turned out to be true.
Escaping my day job, very slowly
Here’s what I said to my boss.
“For the next year, we’ll shift my job to four days per week, while I slowly build up my consulting practice on the side.
“In year two, I’ll go to half-time and we will hire my successor. I’ll have a full year to coach this person while I continue to grow my business.
“Then, in year three, I’ll jump completely into self-employment, leaving you will with a fully-trained development director. If you still want me around, you can buy some consulting time.”
We went back and forth for a while, discussing the logistics of how this might work. When he felt satisfied with the details, he looked at me, smiled, and said, “Good for you. Go for it.”
Long before I knew the phrase – maybe before the phrase was invented? – we had created a succession plan.
What’s your succession plan?
As the “gig economy” grows and traditional employment declines, many more of us will be working for ourselves.
From personal experience, let me testify: there are many, many positive aspects to self-employment. If I’m unhappy with the boss, I have a little talk with myself. If I need a raise, I try to work harder or maybe smarter. If I need time off, I take it. At my home office, the dress code is delightfully random.
What’s your employment succession plan? Do you aspire to start (or grow) your own consulting business? If so, how will you do it?
A great opportunity to build your business
Beginning this October, I’m helping to launch a new Training, Facilitation, and Consulting Certificate Program through the Marlboro College Center for New Leadership
I’m so excited to be working with my colleagues Dianne Russell of the Institute for Conservation Leadership and Stephanie Lahar of Stephanie Lahar & Associates, two of the most skilled facilitators and consultants I know.
The program includes a mix of on-site and remote training, individual coaching, and a peer learning network.
We’ll provide opportunities to shadow and learn from the trainers. We can support your marketing. We’ll do our best to help you find clients.
Do you want to jump-start your consulting business? Are you ready to grow? Please consider joining us starting this fall.