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?
The alum was nice enough to answer them all, patiently (and Robbie is generally happy to answer the same questions for new consultants). This consultant confirmed the rumors about her success, described every little detail of her business, and gave Robbie enough information that she felt comfortable enough to try consulting. Robbie gave herself 3 months to find a project, and gave herself a low bar: “ If someone in the marketing department at a company would pay me over $X/hour, for something qualifying as marketing (I wouldn’t walk their dog, for example—I have my pride) I would do it--and re-evaluate in 90 days.”
The first 30 days went by and she got 2 small projects—the first was for options only at a pre-funding startup and lasted one week, so it really didn’t count (no $) the second was a 6 week marketing communications project—not her strength, but hey—they paid her and seemed happy with the work. Late in her 3rd month a friend called and asked her to do a 2 week project at a large public company with him. That project turned into 2 years of work at the company, and over 12 discrete projects.
At that point, Robbie evaluated and decided to commit for another 3 years. She focused her message, invested in a website, and started actively networking. That was 4 years ago. She can’t imagine doing anything else now.
Today, she has a thriving consulting practice. She has childcare from 8-4, M-Th with a goal of spending about 20 of those hours on work. The rest of the time is for errands, breakfast dishes and family business. There are bad days and good days, but definitely more good than bad. She earns more than she ever did in a corporate job, and she loves nearly everything about her business—especially:
• The hours • The flexibility • Variety of projects • Fact that every project is really needed (or they wouldn’t come up with budget) • The luxury of being paid to tell the truth—no politics in sight • Being an entrepreneur
Will Robbie ever go back to corporate America? She doesn’t think so. She has found a way to add value, make a living and challenge herself in a way that is inspiring and more fun than she ever imagined.
Robbie Kellman Baxter is the President and Founder of Peninsula Strategies , a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Robbie helps companies evaluate growth opportunities by examining the competitive landscape, by analyzing the industry as a whole, and by talking with prospects and customers. Robbie honed her analytical skills as a consultant in Booz-Allen & Hamilton, and has had key roles at a number of Silicon Valley startups, including Edify (now S1), ePronet, and most recently at myCFO, an online wealth management firm serving the very affluent, where Robbie established and built the marketing function as an early member of the management team. Her clients, who range from startups to industry leaders, have included Netflix, Yahoo, PayCycle, Zoomerang, Sun Microsystems, and Oracle. Robbie graduated with honors from Harvard College and received her MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.A longtime resident of the Peninsula, Robbie lives with her husband Bob and three children aged 8, 5, and 2.