Freelance consultant: an attractive way out

06 July 2020
By Laetitia Lavollée & Benjamin Duribreu, Audencia Grande Ecole programme students

Have you ever wondered about giving up your job to focus on a more interesting and stimulating one? Are you a newly  graduated worker looking for the job of your dreams? In any case, you might never have considered the option of becoming a freelance consultant. Well, you should have! We interviewed Philippe, who helped us understand many aspects of this job. Why not be a consultant in a huge boutique? Or is a previous experience mandatory to succeed In this  the market?


Philippe is a former mechanical engineer. He started in the tapware industry as an R&D engineer and gained more and more responsibilities by managing staff. After that, he was a production manager for a plant, then for three plants, and finally became general director of a plant. After all these experiences, Philippe quit his job to become an industrial freelance consultant.


From routine to diversity and change

After a long career in the same industry, like many of his colleagues, Philippe could not bear it anymore. He felt he had seen everything and would never learn or gain anything more from staying in the same job. It was time for change! Philippe explained, with obvious happiness, how much he appreciates changing mission every six months, and responding to new issues every time. This kind of diversity is more interesting for our brain than the usual, repetitive job. The need to learn and progress with each mission is stimulating. Such a relief…


Sometimes it is time to raise your voice

Moreover, there is an important discrepancy between both jobs. After a long time in a company in a high position, one can think that one will be considered as legitimate and will be heard. In fact, Philippe told us that this is not the case. After more than 10 years he felt that he was in a defensive position and not in an action position anymore. Not having an impact and not being listened to became very frustrating. He felt he was nothing more than part of the furniture. What was the point of having experience? Becoming a consultant changed all that: it allows him to have a role and make his voice important.


But why not be a consultant in a boutique?

“It is about freedom”

According to Philippe, if he had been in a consulting firm, he would not have had the freedom he needed, in terms of choosing his missions, the companies, and how to find his work life balance. Philippe is now free. “If I don’t want to work for six months, I can do exactly that.” The financial perspective was also important: there is no intermediary between him and the client that takes a percentage of the income.


Is there anything you miss from your previous job?

“I miss nothing from my previous job”

Although Philippe said “No” and made us understand that the answer was obvious and not to be discussed, at the end of the interview he admitted missing one aspect: the fact that he does not get to see the end of a project. Indeed, as a consultant in transitional management, he implements change and then leaves. But for that kind of project, the concrete impact of the changes are visible only years later. That could be frustrating for some people, but for Philippe that is one small downside in a huge amount of gains.


Having a previous experience: mandatory or only strongly suggested?

“Being an expert in your sector is not enough”

Whether it is possible to start as a freelance consultant from scratch or not, is an important question to ask before making the leap. Working as a freelance consultant requires adaptability, knowledge and autonomy. It is not only about having expertise in a sector and sharing it with companies. How could a transition management consultant, such as Philip, operate changes without knowing anything about human resources or finance for example? Knowledge in every field is required.


Usually, managers or employees of a firm interact with every professional body, which gives them the ability to understand their work. Philip is a good example of that. Without any initial training in finance or human resources, he can easily manage projects, including the financial part, thanks to his previous expertise. As an engineer manager for more than eight years in tapware he learned all the basics and tools he now uses.

His expertise goes even beyond tools and knowledge, as he also dealt with international projects and developed skills in adaptability, which is probably the first skill a consultant requires. “I wouldn’t be here today, if I had not had this previous experience. I was an expert in my field, but I was missing too many additional skills..


“You need to know the good people”

Network. That is probably one of the main points of this article. “When you are a freelancer, you absolutely need a network. You have to know someone who knows someone that will tell a third person how well you work and how reliable you are.” Indeed, freelance means being independent but above all, it means building your own client portfolio. The first step of a freelance consultant is to find missions because “a consultant is like an actor, he doesn’t shoot when there is no movie.” And for that it is mandatory to have a network: one cannot knock at the door of a company and assert being able to offer consulting services without having ever worked and thus,without anyone being able to prove his capability. No matter how skilled the person, no proof means no work.  And this is where network comes into play. Philip's previous experience as a manager allowed him to develop a large network that helped him at the beginning when he had not yet built a reputation as a consultant.


“Experience is your friend: you need it both in quality and quantity”

Another point is the importance of legitimacy. The network is key Philippe told us, but experience can somehow justify knowledge. “Arriving in front of a potential client, I started enumerating my experience and I saw in the eyes of the man that I convinced him just by how many there were.” This could be a life saver if you failed at building a network, Philippe explained. But still, he strongly recommends not to base yourself on that.


What do you need to remember?

For Business School students, why not go directly into consulting, especially in a big group that will train you (in terms of skills, tools etc.). Even though you risk getting less interesting missions at the beginning, the consulting experience could allow you to have an accelerated career with possibility to access higher responsibility positions later on (going beyond the glass ceiling [ml3] thanks to CODIR & COMEX interactions as a consultant etc).


             However, the transition from consulting to "corporate" can be disappointing or frustrating... due to a lack of diversity or lack of power to act; etc.


             A way out that is not often mentioned may be that of the independent consultant who, after having capitalized on his experience, will be able to benefit from a new freedom (work life balance/more vacation, etc) and why not from a greater financial flexibility.

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