Consulting has a lot of appeal. Over 600,000 people in the United States currently operate as consultants, and the profession continues to be in high demand—both from businesses that need outside expertise and from professionals looking to make a living off their knowledge and experience.
But for millennials—the relative newcomers of the business world, and the shapers of the norms and trends to come—is consulting a feasible career option?
The Appeal of Consulting
First, let’s explore why consulting businesses are so appealing in the first place:
- Low startup costs. Your number one resource is the knowledge in your own head (and, potentially, the connections in your network). You won’t have to invest in much equipment and you won’t have much overhead, making consulting one of the easiest businesses to start.
- Flexibility. You can consult on anything you have experience with. Were you a computer programmer? Become a programming consultant. Do you have a financial background? Become a financial consultant. You can also set your own hours, choose your own clients, and consult in whatever style suits you best.
- Pay scale. Consulting rates vary dramatically based on your experience and notoriety. Entry-level consultants can charge affordable rates and still make a decent profit, but after a couple of decades of experience, you could charge hundreds of dollars an hour.
Advantages for Millennials
It sounds fantastic, but is it possible for millennials to build this type of business? There are some major advantages here:
- Technological familiarity. Millennials grew up in a world where the internet was already commonplace, and both schools and homes typically had computers available. Accordingly, they often have higher levels of technological familiarity than their baby boomer counterparts (or are at least perceived to have them). As long as your consulting venture has something to do with technology, this could give you an edge over your older competitors.
- Online resources. There’s also a plethora of online resources available to help new consultants build their businesses—and to help businesses find the perfect fits for their organizations. Consultants 500, for example, lists consultants from practically every area of expertise, and allows businesses to rate and review them based on their experience. It’s a perfect shortcut to visibility if you don’t have a personal brand or reputation yet. Being more familiar with technology and more flexible in your adoption, this could give you an advantage.
- Transition. Demand for consulting is high but is shifting to new areas. The explosion in technology we’ve seen over the past two decades has prompted faster business turnover, and faster emergence and growth of new trends; this, in turn, is prompting rises and shifts in a diversity of different consulting areas. Consulting, as a general professional focus, is undergoing a transition, and since millennials are the “new” generation in the professional world, they can help guide that transition, reinventing consulting in new, intriguing ways.
Disadvantages for Millennials
However, there are some disadvantages holding millennials back:
- Inexperience. Definitions vary, but even by conservative estimates, few “millennials” are older than their mid-30s. Comparatively, this makes millennials young and inexperienced. For example, as a 25-year-old, you’d be entering a world where consultants in their 40s and 50s have multiple decades of experience more than you do—and that could be a serious obstacle in landing your first clients.
- Competition. You’ll also need to consider that the advantages you see are also seen by your peers. On top of your older competition, you’ll face intra-generational competition. Remember, there are more than 600,000 consultants operating today, and that number is only going to grow. Finding a way to differentiate yourself is going to be a big challenge.
- Niche demands. If you want to stand out in the ever-changing world of consulting, you’ll also need to find a specific niche for yourself. A general range of expertise, like “marketing,” probably isn’t going to cut it. Finding a niche that you have expertise in, that isn’t competitive, and that’s still profitable is going to be an obstacle. Still, with enough research and creativity, you can probably invent your own niche and find interested clients.
Should You Consult?
As a millennial professional, should you enter the consulting world? That depends on your personal circumstances and your eventual goals. Is your area of expertise in high demand? Are you more experienced than your contemporaries? Are you willing to take the risk of leaving your current career to pursue your goals? If so, it’s time to put together a business plan.
If not, don’t despair—consulting may still be a viable direction for you. However, you’ll need more experience, more resources, and a firm direction if you want to be successful in the field.