Freelance interview - from McKinsey to the non-profit sector

Helen

Helen

One of the key aims of MMO Freelance is to help our freelance members connect with each other. Through freelance events, guest blogs and personal introductions, we’re hoping to create a freelance network that is better connected and hopefully able to lend a helping hand to each other through project leads, introductions, or just a Friday beer.

Here’s a guest blog from one of our freelance members – Helen, a former McKinsey Consultant.

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How long have you been a freelance consultant?

& what is your industry focus?

I’ve been a freelancer for just over 18 months. I focus on the non-profit sector, which includes government, public sector, big charities (mostly international NGOs because that’s my professional background) and some philanthropic organisations.

Why did you decide to become a freelance consultant?

It was a long process, actually. I was working at Comic Relief, my previous role, on a temporary basis – I had agreed to go and help them set up Red Nose Day in America. It was always on a part-time basis, and I was approaching the end of that contract, and starting to think about what I wanted to do next. I was quite clear that I wanted to do more of a portfolio of things: continue with the strategy work because I loved it, but also increase the amount of creativity and the number of workshops I was doing.

So I decided to go freelance for two reasons:

 

  • more flexibility, being able to work in a different way ;
  • The variety of things I wanted to achieve was difficult in a ‘traditional’ role. I couldn’t find a job that did all the things I wanted to do, so I designed my own job instead.

What most surprised you?

About the change from perm to freelance

Some things were as expected. The things that surprised me the most were how much I liked the flexibility. There was really no downside. I’d been a bit worried that there would be a negative aspect that I hadn’t anticipated. The freedom that comes with only representing yourself is really refreshing – I hadn’t really anticipated that, much as it is obvious looking back.

What one thing would you really want to know?

If you were to just be considering the move to freelance consulting now

I’d want to be really clear why I was making the transition because you have to manage your time really actively. When I went freelance, I wanted to be really flexible and have variety in my work. I didn’t want to be working full-time, and I wanted to work across a number of different projects at once. I could have taken the first project that came along, a 6-month project with one client. That would technically also have been freelance, but it would not have fulfilled any of the goals I had. So being really clear why you want to move into freelance work, and then building your career around that, is really important.

One main pro & one main con of freelance consulting?

Pro: Flexibility. I’m very fortunate to be able to work from almost anywhere and on almost anything.

Con: Zero visibility of what’s coming down the pipe. Again, you have to be really comfortable with uncertainty. For me, that’s partly by design, as I chose to do a model where I was working across multiple clients at the same time rather than working on one big project. If I’d done the one big project model, it would have been easier to create a project pipeline because you can say “well, I have 3 months until the end of my project so I will start to look for work.” Whereas as it is, that would be really hard because I’m always doing something for
someone and that work goes up and down in its intensity. So it’s difficult to build in future-proofing and know a long time in advance
when I will be able to take on more work.

Would you consider going back to perm?

I don’t think I’d go back to permanent consulting, but I would go back to other permanent work, were the job right. It’s about knowing what you want. I’m pretty clear what the job would have to look like and I’m not sure it exists at the moment!

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