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Chicken One Day…Feathers the Next: Managing Your Consulting Career

DEBRA CHANDLER, Chandler Consulting |

Job security? Hah!  Human interaction, challenge, intellectual exercise, helping people and industry? Yah!  Self-reliance and flexibility – most of the time.  Steady contracts? Maybe. This is arts consulting.

Many of us fell into consulting, after long periods of employment that was good, wonderful or miserable. But, we fell into it knowing what we knew, and willing to fly by the seat of our pants a bit to learn more, and to create as much work as we could handle.

And just who are we as consultants?

We are all highly individual, but we do have a few things in common. By and large, we are

  • Curious
  • Creative
  • Energetic “Do-ers”
  • Analytical
  • Solution oriented

In addition, like the generally higher-paid Management Consultants in the corporate world, we have the following skills:

  • Logical reasoning
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Ingenuity
  • Ability to work well with others

So – we certainly don’t run around like chickens, with or without our heads cut off. And we are certainly good for more than one meal, although we often have to feed 5-10 people at once with our ideas.

We have to manage current projects and wrap up past projects while we are constantly scratching the yard for the next project.  Sometimes I feel like I am running in headless circles, because my head has exploded.  There are weeks when it is just very hard to continue to think clearly about 4-5 clients at once, or, dare I say it, to care about all 4-5 of them, at once.

Those are the Chicken weeks.  Stuffed, dressed and plentiful.  Free run, butter-infused or complete wild turkeys, the work is great and we take all we can get.

Then come the Feather weeks, when you long for that frantic Chicken-week pace as the empty hours tick by, and your ideas, calls, and research turn up no work, or work that will start… in a month.

Using the Bones to Make Soup – Drown those Feathers!

When you have bills to pay, it is hard to take advantage of the “down” time to learn something new online or in person, take someone out for coffee or lunch, or attend an event where networking can be done.  But we do it, and we must do it.

As self-employed entrepreneurs, we are resourceful enough to take the chicken bones, add a few vegetables and make Soup!

These down times are excellent for getting in touch with ACCA colleagues and friends. Having a chat about what’s new for them, what you learned in the last contract, and what you see coming down the pipeline that will require new knowledge and models.

Part of our curious, creative natures is the love of learning, and Professional Development has to be pretty well constant.  The minute we rest on laurels, or follow formula, we are bound to stumble. Jane Marsland makes a practice of reading a book about something completely unknown to her.  I listen to music totally new to me, and read as well.

What do YOU do in your Feather weeks? Let’s start a Chicken and Feathers dialogue.

If the Feather times persist, take them and stuff a pillow – you deserve the rest! OR take a few and make a dancing hat!

Anchor Gigs

Some consultants have what we call “anchor gigs,” working a regular part-time contract for one particular organization or company.  These are hugely beneficial, and take off the financial stress. These are not necessarily factory chicken jobs – I have been incredibly fortunate to have entrepreneurial, community-oriented anchor gigs that stretched my thinking and brought me into contact with amazing people and places. [Looking for another one right now, actually!] 

Do YOU have an anchor gig? Would you like one? OR do you feel they are restrictive?

One thing is for certain, we are most fortunate to have a networking and learning group like ACCA.

Let’s really use it as a hub for partnering, learning and staving off those feathers!

Sources:
http://study.com/articles/What_Does_a_Consultant_Do.html
Job description for Consultant, Learning Design (Boston)
Client & Consumer Services | Boston, MA, United States 

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Love the analogy in this article! My “feathers” time is summertime. In summer I plan my marketing for my biggest season: fall fundraising training online. Debra I also appreciate how you highlighted the importance of learning and growing your own skills as a consultant. Very important to stay ahead of the curve, I would say especially around technology.

    Thanks for this Debra!
    Jenny Mitchell, Chavender

  2. I loved this post and it helped to brighten up my day. Arts Consulting is a challenge, but knowing that I’m in this good company, makes it easier.

    Thanks Debra!

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