Many people talk about becoming a Consultant because they see it as an opportunity to extend their career and share their experience with others. Others see it as a lifestyle choice. Or both. Whatever, it can be a fantastic vocation (rather than a job) and introduces you to a wide range of interesting projects and challenges. You can work for established firms or partnerships (which provide a little more security) or go out on your own, as I have done.

The term ‘Consultant’ is bandied around quite a lot sometimes to add kudos to a role, but it applies generically to sales personnel, advisors, senior clinicians in the NHS and is to my mind is an over-used but under-defined word.

To be successful you need to be dedicated and take some considered risks, but when you reach stagnation in the day job the risk might be worth taking to break through the glass ceiling of ageism, working a company (as I did) where FM & Catering is not their core business or other valid reasons.

From time to time new consultants arrive on the scene, sometimes intentionally, whereas others are just doing fill-in between jobs or have landed there as a result of a unfavourable company reorganisation.

Everyone has a valid reason and mostly they want to remain engaged, have their opinions valued and make real & lasting change. Those with a long term plan will make it because an overnight success can take up to 10 years to achieve. You have to believe in yourself and clients have to believe in you. Trust, commitment, shared values are some of the key attributes of a good consultant.

Self-help books write about what you should do and that assumes you have written some kind of life plan when you were at school. Most people haven’t and let’s face it, there are other more interesting things (at the time) to distract you from future realities. So it can be more of calling then an intent, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. ‘Feast or famine’ is a term often used where you are totally inundated with too much work or nothing at all, and this puts people off, as does the anxiety, stress and inconsistency of work especially in the early years. The key is flexibility, have a plan of what you want to achieve, but consider all opportunities because they all help. And don’t be obsessed with fees & titles. Just because you were a big cheese in your old job it doesn’t mean that you have that sway when you become independent.

Working in different jobs in your career certainly pays off. I started on the shop floor – porter, catering assistant, waiter, chef. It was a great insight into what it’s like on the coalface rather than some ‘back to the floor’ gimmick we see by desperate management trying to curry favour with staff. It helps shape your opinions, views and perhaps better way of doing things, and what drives & motivates you.

Despite what is said qualifications are important, and doing a degree, for instance, gives you a grounding in rational thinking, analysis and presentation. It’s not essential, but it helps, experience and ‘having been there’ could be good enough. Most importantly you have to be yourself and good at social interaction and networking

In management, it helps to progress steadily through the ranks. The better contractors provide great management development programmes, as I had with Sutcliffe, where I learnt the necessary skills in time management, budgetary control, the art of delegation as well as running a business. These are invaluable as your consultancy grows especially if you stick at it. Success is built largely from recommendation, referral and repeat business and we have built ours around 4 key sectors (healthcare, B&I, government & sports & leisure) in FM & Catering.

It doesn’t stop there, working client side is a must-do role especially for a well known brand or organisation. Don’t listen to the cynics, you can’t go wrong working for a Google, BBC, HSBC, BAE or any of those large corporates. With a contractor your core business is a number one consideration, with a client FM & Catering is way down the list unless staff start complaining about prices, the food, room temperatures, safety and so on.

In ten years we have grown our consultancy business because we have delivered the goods and we get on with our clients. They want the experience and guidance they don’t want someone who is just playing at it.