Recently someone wrote to ask for my advice on breaking in to the world of consulting. Hustle.
When I was 24 I was effectively fired from my first job. I had a conflicting with the company was I believed was acting unethically and they believed otherwise. It was a difficult time because everything I had worked so hard to attain suddenly seemed to have been stripped away from me, including loosing my equity in a fast growing startup.
At the time I wasn’t unsure of my long term career goals, but I knew I did not want to put my trust into another corporate entity for a long time. So there I was at 24 suddenly without income and needing to make a plan fast.
Fortunately I had three primary assets working for me:
1) I had some severance that allowed me a two-month runway
2) I had just received a crash course in starting a company observing how the founders hustled to build a multi-million dollar business
3) I was located in a major city, Washington, DC
The first thing I did was create a detailed budget for myself and then make a list of my strengths and what tangible value I could provide to a customer. I decided my best route forward would be to call myself a “consultant”.
At the time, not having any specialized degree, my main value was in offering low rates (I’d undercut anyone), my understanding of spreadsheets and some limited finance experience.
Since I knew I was going to be sending out a resume to a diverse array of business-types, I created three resume variations, each emphasizing different skill-sets.
I also created a much better online presence for myself: a personal website with online CV. I also took snippets of business plans and RFPs I had worked on, redacted the confidential information and prepared them as examples of work I had done – effectively an online portfolio to lend some credibility.
Then it was on to distribution. The primary place I sought opportunities was Craigslist, specifically Craigslist Gigs.
At the time, Craigslist was free for Gig posting, so many contract-type requests already existed and I assumed the the pool of talent applying was much smaller than say Hotjobs due to Craigslist having a reputation for being scammy.
I also signed up for a statistics class at Johns Hopkins University — a move that would later pay off in huge dividends.
At the time, my reasoning for taking the course was to ‘bolster my resume’ with some quantitative work, but also, being able to call myself a student could open the door to lots of new opportunities.
I was particularly excited because I would receive a .jhu email address. I knew firsthand from a previous job the power of parlaying the ‘starving student’ card. I also joined a number of organizations where I felt the affiliation would bolster my credibility: I joined NetImpact, a global networking group and another organization for entrepreneurs.
I responded to every opportunity that came across my plate. I created templates so I could quickly customize responses and save myself time.
From there it was simply a matter of hustle and not saying no. There was no gig too small.
Specifically I was seeing a lot of demand for business plans. I’d do one for a startup, go do some spreadsheet work for a non-profit and then design a power point for for a busy executive.
However, I soon began to get more interesting offers as referrals picked up. I then
1) wrote a business plan for economic development in south of St. Lucia (sponsored by the government of St. Lucia)
2) worked with the executive team of the YMCA of America
3) worked for a VC helping to structure an acquisition
Ultimately between my consulting experience and enjoyment being back in a classroom, I applied to be an MBA student in Johns Hopkins new program.
However, my consulting opportunities were so personally rewarding and lucrative that I ended up consulting all throughout the two plus years at Hopkins. Between my side hustle of business plans and consulting work I managed to pay for half my degree.
Being forced into entrepreneurship gave me confidence that in a worst case scenario I could provide for myself. My work also allowed me to experience a number of industries without having to make a long-term commitment to that field. That entrepreneurial mindset also led me to later launch a startup of my own that went on to raise venture capital.