Should I Stay or Should I Go...Independent
I didn’t dive into consulting. I looked at the pool
for a while, looking for swimmers, then dipped my
toe, then actually got wet. Now, four years later,
I’m confidently calling myself a consultant—it’s
a path I’m happy to have taken.
Maybe it was lucky maybe unlucky, but while I was
on maternity leave after the birth of my second
child, the start-up where I was Director of Brand
Marketing laid off most of the marketing department,
including me. I was relieved. I 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. I was also panicked. I hadn’t planned
on leaving the workforce—I always saw myself having
a career. But I didn’t know anyone who seemed to
have a good part-time gig. And even if I found something,
working half-time (for half-pay) would force us
to change our lifestyle, something my husband and
I were reluctant to do.
I had heard a rumor that a woman from my 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 I didn’t know her really well,
I gathered my courage (I was desperate) and called
her, laying out my situation in graphic detail.
I asked her every dumb, rude, obvious question I
could think of:
• How do you charge for your work?
What specifically do you do for them?
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
How did you make your website? Can you help me make
She was nice enough to answer them all, patiently
(and I am generally happy to answer the same questions
for new consultants). She confirmed the rumors about
her success, described every little detail of her
business, and gave me enough information that I
felt comfortable enough to try consulting. I gave
myself 3 months to find a project, and gave myself
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 I 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 my strength, but hey—they paid me and
seemed happy with the work. Late in my 3 rd month
a friend called and asked me 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, I evaluated and decided to commit
for another 3 years. I focused my message, invested
in a website, and started actively networking. That
was 4 years ago. I can’t imagine doing anything
Today, I have a thriving consulting practice. I
have 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. I earn more than
I ever did in a corporate job, and I love nearly
everything about my business—especially:
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
Will I ever go back to corporate America ? I don’t
think so. I have found a way to add value, make
a living and challenge myself in a way that is inspiring
and more fun than I ever imagined.
Robbie Kellman Baxter is a principal at Peninsula
Strategies ( www.peninsulastrategies.com ), 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.
Cons of Consulting
• Lumpy Pipeline
• Difficult to
• Hard to
explain at cocktail
Not as clear a "career" path
No administrative supports
• Deliver “projects”
• Respond to a short term challenge
• Look like an outsider
• Sell their expertise
• Have shorter projects
• Command high fees
• Deliver “hours”
• Fill in for a needed role in the organization
• Look like an employee
• Sell their competence
• Have longer projects
• Command lower fees