Age Discrimination? Not For The Self-Employed?

Nor for those who bring intellectual capital . . . ?

With the steady decline in "jobs for life", and the move to multi-faceted career paths, plus the move towards earlier "retirement" from full-time employment, more and more people in their 50's and 60's are attracted to the idea of becoming consultants.

We know from many of our now retired readers that the variety of posts taken up after leaving the job reflects many of the skills acquired over the years from people skills, attention to detail, working under pressure and even being worldly can give you a head start particularly if you want to work for yourself. One way to launch a more independent career is to become a consultant. If you like the idea of becoming a consultant, Chas Morrison an Adviser Team Manager at Business Link highlights some of the pros and cons of becoming a consultant.

Have you transferable skills? Have you a manner that encourages others to listen to what you say, and to act on your good advice? Are you a respected individual, with a sound track record that will stand up to scrutiny? Are you brave enough to launch into self-employment if you choose that route? Have you sufficient money to live on until the first cheque arrives? Are you likely to find consultancy work via your current business environment, or from current contacts?

Whilst self-employment has many advantages for the 50+ working population - ability to dictate the working week (to some degree), holidays when you want them (to some degree), potential to earn good sums of money, etc. - there are also drawbacks like no paid holidays or sickness, no company pension scheme, doing your own sales and marketing, etc.

Many new consultants rely on introductions from current contacts and work via their present employer, which is only a short-term solution.

Some new consultants join an existing consultancy organisation, and thus gain the benefits of employment coupled with the facility to learn the consultancy ropes whilst earning fees or a salary. A gentle word of warning - whilst most such organisations are reputable and supportive, ensure that you check with their current consultants all the plusses and minuses of working for the organisation; ensure that the promised leads will/do materialise, that the training on offer is effective and worth your financial and time outlay, and that the organisation has a track record of delivering consultancy that is useful to their clients.

If you decide to go for the existing organisation route they will probably set the fee rates for you. If you decide to go it alone, the question of "How much shall I charge?" is a really important issue. Charge too little, and you will probably be seen as not sufficiently qualified, so will not be offered the project. Charge too much, and you reduce the likelihood of being selected. Aim to be in the centre ground, and remember that you need to consider whether to charge extras such as travel, disbursements (e. g. postage, printing), travel time in addition to a daily or hourly or project rate.

At Business Link our experience is that most new consultants charge too little, on the basis of "I'll get my foot in the door, and then can increase my fee rates once I'm established". It doesn't work like that. It's easier to start with a realistic fee, and to then increase it in small steps as the client realises your worth. Cost of living increases are more easily justified if you apply them regularly but in small percentages.

Remember that you will not be receiving income for days when you are canvassing work, completing your accounts, etc., and will not have paid projects every day when you are available to work.
Doing your homework is vital before deciding whether to become a consultant.

This may seem obvious, but many new consultants fail to consider the size of the potential market, the current providers, the breadth of their offer eg. as a Health and Safety Consultant, should I also mention Environmental Issues?) and the future of their specialism.

A useful tip is to consider your prospects of success through the eyes of a potential client.

For example, visit:

to see the advice given to organisations selecting a consultant.


gives advice about why and how to use a consultant, information that prospective consultants can use to their advantage.

Membership of a trade body or professional organisation can be advantageous in some cases, as this may create leads for you and/or the opportunity to purchase the necessary insurances at a more reasonable rate.

Think about networking opportunities, e.g. the various events run by Business Link, Chambers of Commerce, local authorities and others; would you benefit from attending these before making your decision about becoming a consultant? They may well give you an opportunity to discuss your planned route with other (non-competitor!) consultants, and to consider the possibilities open to you locally.

Think about the next few years, not just the next few months - what would you hope to be doing in three years' time or in five years' time? What is happening over the next three years, which would be beneficial? (e.g. London 2012 requires a huge security and logistics operation - you could visit as a good start point!)

Think also about premises - is it sensible and practicable to work from home? Consider the possible disruption to family life, and conversely the effect of screaming children when you are concentrating, or trying to close a deal on the phone! Consider the insurance and capital gains tax issues that may arrive and think through any impact on your neighbourhood relationships if your business will attract visitors to your home office.

It's a big decision to make - take time and lots of thought; take advice from people you trust. If you go ahead, enjoy every minute!

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