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  • Writer's pictureLianne

Transition From Corporate HR Executive to Self-Employed HR Consultant: “No Regrets, Just Lessons Lea

Having recently left a dynamic 25-year HR career working for a top Financial Institution, starting fresh as an independent HR consultant was initially puzzling however I appreciate/have learned that putting the puzzle pieces all together has been a rewarding challenge.

 And what a difference a year makes; the pieces are fitting into place. 

Here are my Top 10 Lessons from Year One: 

 1.      Selling, Building a Pipeline & Managing Rejection - One of the most commonly overlooked elements of consulting is selling. As an HR consultant, you need networking techniques to earn clients – simply being an HR expert isn't enough. The most successful HR consultants who I have met along the way have lots of projects in the pipeline. And regardless of the fact that rejection is a normal part of the selling process, toddlers are not the only ones who don’t like to hear “NO”. As one of my mentors recently reminded me “you have the right attitude of ‘ya win some…and ya lose some’ and are staying focused on keeping the pipeline full of possibilities”. I have also learnt how to bounce back better each time, to move on and not take it personally. If you get a no, it’s OK to ask why. You just need to do it in a respectful way and focus on soliciting feedback for "next time".

2.      Jack of All Trades = Master of None – There are plenty of generalists out there. Even if you’re a great generalist and jack of all trades, I have come to learn in pitches and networking that you need to be a MASTER of a few HR specialities. Why? Well it makes you unique, special and sets you apart from the rest of the pack. Rarely will a client need a generalist. From my experience, they have a specific burning need: to hire, to develop, re-organize, etc.. Find a few niche areas of HR and focus on those. Not only does it keep you organized with key selling propositions, you are also adding value to your reputation and brand.

3.      Realistic Expectations It's easy to call yourself a consultant, but not so easy to say you're a successful consultant. The process takes time, financial expectations and client responsiveness should be realistic. I am mindful of what is referred to as the “hurry up and wait” syndrome. Because we live in a world of continual, real-time communication from anywhere in the world, we’ve gotten used to assuming that everything happens instantaneously. The reality though, is that everyone is actually trying to “do more, with less” trying to drive more work through fewer people, and at greater speed, which results in jamming of the queue. Given the desire for speed that permeates today’s business culture, we’ll all probably experience hurry up and wait syndrome at one time or another.

4.      Results Matter... But Networking/Relationships Matter More - What others say about your HR reputation/brand is 10 times more convincing than what you say. Building or expanding your network means talking with everyone – and anyone, gaining new contacts, arranging meetings, asking for introductions and sometimes simply connecting with people you don’t know and ask them for a meeting. All approaches work - so don’t be afraid to ask.

5.      Working Alone & Being “Unknown ” - Many consultants are surprised by the impact of working alone. The lack of working with colleagues and friends takes a toll on some people. As a consultant, you need to be extremely comfortable working alone. And while there may be times when you are allocated a space in a client’s office, employees opening up to you might take a longer time. Integrating into the company culture might take more effort than usual.

6.      Stay Current & On-Going Learning and Growth - I enjoy the process as much as the outcome, which means that every project is a fulfilling experience regardless of the result and there are specific challenges, diverse perspectives, and lots of take-aways. It is important to stay current and on top of your “HR”, because I have learned that “success is not necessarily for those who run fast, but for those that keep running and are always on the move”. 

7.      Practice Makes Perfect - Every consulting assignment or project is an opportunity to practice. Practice is key to mastery – and mastery or specialization is key to steady flow of consulting work. Consulting has given me the opportunity to enhance my skills such as: creating a website, marketing materials, request for service proposals/ presentations; and enhance my qualifications via upgraded certification in HR specialty areas.

8.      Specialist Status = Source of Influence - That’s why mastery in your field is very important. What’s also important is an excellent track record, evidenced by real and measured results, and by testimonials from your client base. To influence, persuade and really connect with people, you have to speak to them in their language – using their words, not yours. I have had to be more aware of and ditch my otherwise common “HR Speak”.

9.      Great Leaders, Teams and Diverse Sectors - Working with diverse leaders and teams and exposure to new industries has been an absolute gift. Not to mention, the expanded professional and personal network is another one of the best parts of being an independent consultant.

10.   Continuous Investment - You have to be prepared to invest time, money and energy on a continuous basis – be it for your professional training and growth, for new tools and methods, or for business development and marketing. Whether you manage your own clients, or outsource some, you will still have to spend a fair amount of time on preparation and administrative work.

 Although making the move to independent consulting is one of the best career decisions of my life, success does not happen overnight and at the end of the day, you are the only one who can and will define what success looks like. 

 For me, success is a long-term game that involves choosing consulting clients and projects that provide meaning, impact and balance and the opportunity to work in an environment of constant challenges, and learning. And although I know I still have a lot to learn and experience as a Human Capital & Learning Consultant...these are a few things I know for sure:

·       I am fully invested in my clients’ success.

·       As an expert in my field, I understand theoretical frameworks, but my bread and butter comes from translating these into workable solutions for clients.

·       Business acumen is critical. HR skills on their own won’t cut the mustard – I understand the bottom line and my service has to align with the business model.

·       As a dedicated professional, I hold myself to the highest level of ethics, confidentiality and integrity. Trust from my clients is imperative.

·       I enjoy networking and have become good at it! Networking is how I meet clients, gain referrals, create collaborations with other consultants and stay connected. Networking is a great way to meet people in a "non-selling" setting. So, don't sell. 

To make the most of networking here are a few ideas I've used:

1.      Plan to attend a specific number of meetings or events each week/month and fit other tasks and responsibilities around these meetings.

2.      Pick networking opportunities that put me face-to-face with people most likely to need what I offer or try to meet people who can connect me with people who need what I offer. Both are good prospects.

3.      Understand why I am there, to begin relationships - not to sell. Networking is the first step in building a long-term relationship which cannot be rushed.

4.      Ask questions. Learn about them and their business.

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