I love my job as a solo consultant. It’s everything I thought it would be—and much, much more. It’s fulfilling. It gives me creative liberty. It gives me the flexible schedule I need. Financially, it’s been great. I couldn’t imagine a better job for me.
But that all comes with some substantial drawbacks. When people consider solo consultants, they think about the lazy Friday afternoons you might spend by the lake (never happens). Working in your slippers in the office (I do this, actually). And catching a movie on a Wednesday afternoon between client meetings (have only done this once in four years, and it was very late in the day on a Friday).
Basically, they see all the potential benefits of the solo lifestyle, and none of the hardships. In reality, there are plenty of drawbacks to this line of work. People just don’t talk about them that much.
Over the last four years, I’ve noticed a number of reasons the solo lifestyle isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I don’t share these with you to complain or to scare you, but to give you a realistic view of what being a solo is all about.
If you want glamour, you’ve come to the wrong place
Let me recount my “glamorous” lifestyle this week. I worked from home four of the five days. The other day, I had a couple of client meetings on-site. During the days I work from home, I rarely leave my computer. I’m either writing or scouring the Web the entire day. I take a break to pick up my kids, eat lunch, and get them to bed (no real “lunch break” with co-workers). Then I’m back at it in the evening.
I usually watch at least one show a night with my wife, but that’s about it. I see other humans only when I have client meetings or when I set up coffee meet-ups with others. Some days I spend the whole day working in my pajamas. You might think that’s a perk, but it actually makes you feel like a slob, which is why most days I’ll purposefully get dressed in the morning even if I’m working from home the entire day. Very glamorous, right?
Try going to an event like BlogWorld or South By Southwest as a solo consultant. You’re chatting with folks who work at Target, Sony, Kraft, Ogilvy, Weber Shandwick, and so on. All brands and agencies you recognize instantly, right?
Who recognizes ACH Communications? I’ll tell you who: Nobody. OK, maybe not nobody
, but I will tell you that the folks who work for those big companies and agencies have a lot
more credibility in that environment than someone like me.
I’m fine with it, but this line of work is not for the insecure. If you like the title, the credibility, and the cache of working for a big agency or organization, this world is not for you
The hours actually suck
You think the hours will be better, but in reality they’re just as tough as “agency hours.” Yes, you can definitely mold the schedule to fit your needs; that part is great. But the simple fact remains: You work in a billable system, and you have to bill the hours. So you work a lot of hours (provided you have—and want—the work). I sub-contract out some of my work (community management, a bit of writing and research as needed), but at the end of the day, the hours are pretty tough.
Vacations are non-existent
But Arik, I see you going on vacations regularly with your family on Instagram
. It’s true; I vacation regularly. But my vacations are shorter, usually three to five days at most usually. And keep in mind my phone and email are never
off. I’ve rarely taken a vacation in which I wasn’t working. When I worked on the corporate/agency side, I almost always completely unplugged on vacation. Now that seems like a thing of the past.
My new plan: Organize four vacations each year, but vacations that are a bit shorter. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, I figure if I worked on the corporate side, I’d have four to six weeks of vacation by now (that’s about how much my wife has), so I figure why shouldn’t I take a couple weeks for myself?
The vacations are shorter on purpose—so I can take them more frequently without hurting client work. But that two-week vacation to Hawaii? Yeah, that’s going to have to wait for a while.
A lack of teamwork (mostly)
Maybe the thing I miss most about not working for an agency or company is the lack of teamwork as a solo consultant. There’s no one to brainstorm with; no one to bounce ideas off; no one to chat with while I make coffee; no one to talk about the Twins game last night. No one.
I try to schedule a couple coffees and/or happy hours a week to get myself out in the flow, and that helps. And I do have a few accounts where I work with other contractors, but I rarely “see” them. When things get busy, it’s just me. And it sucks.
So those are the drawbacks and challenges of the solo lifestyle. As I said earlier, there are many more reasons I love my job. But I would be a fool if I didn’t recognize the drawbacks. I just work to find creative solutions to manage those challenges a bit better.
For my solo consultant friends out there, did I hit the mark here? Did I miss any drawbacks? Let me know in the comments section.
Arik Hanson is principal of ACH Communications in Minneapolis. He blogs at Communications Conversations, where a version of this article originally appeared.