Another in Our Continuing Series on Consulting After 50

My recent interviews with start-up consultants over the age of 50 revealed the reasons why they left their jobs. Restructuring and downsizing affected some of them, others rejected toxic work environments and internal politics, and still others were fed up with the bullying and ageism they found in the workplace. Some were pressured into management or administrative roles, others felt frozen in place and unable to grow, and many were deeply unhappy. One way or another, they all left their jobs and went out on their own. So how did it happen? It turns out there are three parts to this transition process.

1.      The Turning Point

It seems for many consultants, there was distinct moment in time when the decision arose. It was a turning point. As one said:

I decided after two [negative job] experiences in a row, I was like, you know what? I just can’t do this any more. I can't find a job…that is going to be a good fit for me, so, I'll just make my own job.


Another felt trapped:

I was at the top of the levels I could go to and couldn't expect any raise, or any promotion, or anything except to keep doing the same thing I was doing. I decided now was the time.

For a third, already on the way out, it was time to celebrate. She said:

My job ended on the 15th of December…and so I walked out of there and clicked my heels.

But others had the decision made for them. They found themselves unemployed without warning—terminated or laid off due to downsizing, reorganization, or conflict. One consultant said:

It was one day to the next. I didn't see it coming. I knew that [our company was] struggling, and I knew that some people had already been let go. But you never think you're going to be next.

And as another reflected:

Ultimately, it was being pushed out the door.... But what was initially a surprise became an opportunity….

2.      The Transition Strategy

As they left, or soon afterwards, they all had a transition strategy in place. Although it’s recommended to have at least six months’ salary for your start-up, many didn’t have that kind of cash on hand. Instead they crafted other strategies to support their business development. These included:

  • Remaining at their current job while developing their exit strategy;
  • Getting an interim job, knowing it was time-limited in nature;
  • Working on a sub-contract basis for a large consulting firm;·        
  • Working part-time at their former job;
  • With permission, taking the projects they had worked on in their former job to their new business.
These safety nets provided both the financial security and the time needed to dream, read, research, network, and prepare for their new businesses, but as one consultant warned:
     
I will certainly emphasize the fact that it's risky…. Going part-time was part of my safety net, both professionally and in terms of an income…. But I would certainly caution people not to just go from a full-on professional career role in an organization to being out there with no work.

3.      Getting Their Ducks in a Row

During their start-up and even after projects began to appear, they focused on planning and research, and took as much as 18 months to, as they said, get their ducks in a row. They developed their business structure, learned small business skills (such as accounting, bookkeeping, managing cashflow, time keeping, and contracting) and embarked on extensive, self-directed professional development to sharpen their skills. They became involved with their professional evaluation organizations where they found support, mentoring, training, connections, and a much-needed community of practice.

When the transition period was over, they got on with their consulting careers. All reported increased satisfaction and personal fulfilment. Their job exit, whether planned or unplanned, had allowed them to find a better fit between work and their personal lives but they weren’t planning to retire any time soon—they were having too much fun!

Next up:  Setting Up Shop

Photo: Shutterstock

Reference:

Barrington, G. V. (2019 in press). Consulting After 50: Redirection and Reinvention for Career Evaluators. New Directions for Evaluation, Independent Evaluation Consulting: Approaches and Practices from a Growing Field (Winter 2019).