The Disadvantages of Being a Consultant

There is quite possibly some kind of dilettante independent consultant out there who doesn’t really need to work to earn a living, is not responsible for anyone else’s well-being, and who can pick and choose his (or her) clients and their projects as the mood takes him (or her). Life is all laid-back. “Ah” you say, “you mean the HRH kind of thing.” Not really. The HRH kind of thing is actually a team, in any case. And he is an employer with responsibilities for an office full of professional employees.

An independent consultant (IC) is just that – a one-off on his own; except that he (or she) may have a secretary/office-minder and sometimes even two of them, although one or other of them will usually be away with some kind of pregnancy or a complication in her love life.

The list of the “disadvantages of being an independent consultant” always feels phenomenal if you’re one of the ordinary rank-and-file who has to earn enough money to fund the work of the business (phone bills, stationery, postage, motor car bills) and support some kind of a family.

There is the un-ending challenge of being expected to keep coming up with some new scheme, some new initiative, for achieving this or that breakthrough in promotion or business presentation or operating economies. You are expected to know everything about everything, or at least where and how you can research it. God bless the computer age and the ever-increasing efficacy of the search engines – except you must always keep in the back of your mind the likelihood that at least three of the directors have young children who have already found for Papa at least three definitive websites you probably have missed, and they will be waiting to trap you in the boardroom. Not necessarily out of any intended personal malice, but to chalk up their own brownie points with the Chairman.

But the biggie is the work-load. It is very likely immense and intense. You and your consultancy survive in the long term only by taking on five, six, seven, eight or nine clients at a time, on the basis that if you lose one client (maybe he goes out of business altogether) you still ought to have enough fee income to avoid “bleeding to death” (to use the vernacular of the trade).

But what the IC cannot do with this catalogue of clients is tell any of them that they will have to be only Priority Two or Three for your attention. They will all expect to be Priority One.

Hence working into the night and all through every weekend can quickly become the norm, And the very worst nightmare is the client who, on Wednesday, finally remembers to tell you that he and all his directors and managers will be going away on Friday night to stay at a seaside hotel for a two-day intensive review of company practice, and hope you will be able to be with them. And you had been planning to do so many other important things.

It is even likely that none of them are even aware of the others for whom you are working and, generally speaking, it is best kept that way.


That is maybe alright if you have chosen to base yourself in some great regional capital, where there are many businesses, and probably many consultancies serving them. But focus on a county-town environment for some notional ‘quality of life’ benefits and you can be very quickly in trouble when Client A asks you to come to a meeting to discuss how to combat the sparkling new initiatives that have been launched by rival Company B, innocently unaware that Company B is also your Client B and his “sparkling new initiatives” are all part of a nice business plan you had compiled, and now you are under orders to find a way to destroy it.

It is always good to read about Max Clifford and his adept handling of one of his high-profile celebrity cases for which he is getting a celebrity-level fee that will see him ‘OK at the bank’ for some while to come.

But for the ordinary independent consultant it can often feel there are more disadvantages to being an independent consultant than there are advantages.