Corporate Or Consultant?

We’ve all heard the stories of the friend from business or law school that left their full time job to go independent and is now making twice the money they were in house in half the hours as a consultant. Every working mom yearning for more flexibility has thought about striking out on their own at least once. We talked to Robbie Baxter, the President and Founder of Peninsula Strategies, who runs a thriving online strategy consulting practice in 30 hours a week to hear her story. (Yes, one of those women we all envy.) She says that consulting may not be the right path for everyone, but if you have the skills and the confidence, it offers the panacea of the working mom, challenging work, scheduling flexibility and significant income potential. Here is Robbie’s story and her advice for those of you thinking of striking it out on your own.

Robbie didn’t dive into consulting. She took her time getting wet. Now, four years later, she confidently calling herself a consultant and leading a thriving practice—and it’s a path she’s happy to have taken.

Maybe it was lucky maybe unlucky, but while she was on maternity leave after the birth of her second child, MyCFO, the start-up where Robbie was Director of Brand Marketing laid off most of the marketing department, including Robbie. She was relieved. She had been working 60 hours a week, plus evenings for email, and couldn’t imagine doing that with a 12 week old and a 3 year old at home. She was also panicked. She hadn’t planned on leaving the workforce—“I always saw myself having a career” Robbie says. And she didn’t know anyone who seemed to have a good part-time gig. Beyond that, even if she found something part time, working half-time (for half-pay) would force Robbie and her family to change their lifestyle, something they were reluctant to do.

Robbie had heard a rumor that a woman from her business school class had gone independent, was working two-thirds time and making more than she had been earning as a Director of Product Management at a good-sized company. Although she didn’t know her really well, Robbie gathered her courage (she was desperate) and called the alum, laying out her situation in graphic detail. Robbie asked her every dumb, rude, obvious question she could think of:

• How do you charge for your work? • Who are your clients? • How did they find you? • What specifically do you do for them? • How do you pay taxes? • Do you need to be a corporation? • What are the legal/business issues? • What kind of computer do you have? • Do you need a laptop or desktop? Do you need a laser printer? • Do you have to have a work line or is a cell phone OK? • How did you make your website? Can you help me make mine?