I entered into independent safety consulting out of necessity. I did not plan the transition ahead of time, save money, or contemplate a fun company name (or swag). In January of 2013, I found myself with 2 weeks left of my 4 week maternity leave (I worked for a small company that did not have to meet FMLA requirements) and I knew I was not ready to go back to full time work. Something had to change.
My path to become an independent safety consultant was not deliberate, but there are some lessons that have become clear since 2013 that others seeking a similar outcome could learn from.
While I was pregnant, I dabbled in independent safety work to earn extra money. Instead of sitting on the couch during football season, I stood at my basement bar with my laptop and a huge glass of water. At the time, I didn’t realize I was laying the foundation for later independent work. On the suggestion of a freelance writer friend, I checked out elance.com, it is now called upwork.com, and searched for safety related work. I was surprised to find there was real work on that site, and I quickly applied for multiple jobs. The jobs ranged from writing technical safety content for trade publications to review and development of training presentations.
During this dabbling, I found a new skill: Instructional Design. I added this key term to my resume and secured even more independent work. Instructional design refers to training course development including script, description of images and scenarios for the course designer, and development of testing questions that meet stated parameters. This instructional design work has forever changed how I approach in-person training, even though the work was exclusively for online and computer based training.
Several of my elance.com clients reached out to work with me outside of the site (shhhh!). This was my first step into real consulting without the safety net of an intermediary for securing the work and payment for completion of work.
Bridge the gap
Back to January 2013…I did go back to my job, as scheduled, after my maternity leave. The plan was that I would work the first month on a part time basis, and then transition back to full time. During the part time schedule, I continued to work on training programs and review written programs for clients to maintain independent work. A few months later, life was turned completely upside-down when we moved across the country and my mother-in-law passed away. I instantly needed income, but I was limited in my schedule due to family commitments.
I searched for part time safety consultant jobs via local ASSE chapter websites and responded to an ad. I still work for this particular client to this day! This work allowed me to bridge the gap between complete life upset to whatever my next job would be. At this time, I thought I would find a full time traditional job. That was not in the cards for me as I still needed flexible work.
Secure an anchor gig
The part time work I secured upon the move became my anchor gig. This is a lesson I learned early and I’m glad I did! It’s the only way I’ve been able to survive as an independent consultant – maintain at least one client that can pay the bills and provides stable work. Stable work…now that is a concept. I cover this topic in my Life Cycle of a Safety Career posts – the short version is that there’s two main themes with work: stability and flexibility. When you decide you want to be a safety consultant, you give up stability for flexibility. If you stay with a full time employer, you have stability, but limited flexibility.
I have now worked for myself longer than I have worked for any past employer. I have had many jobs in my working life since age 14. Stability is not my thing, I crave flexibility and autonomy. Safety consulting is perfect for me. It is NOT perfect for everyone. Some days I feel great about my choice to continue consulting, other days – I worry. Fortunately, I am able to channel my worry into action – some days that is looking online for RFPs and reaching out to past clients, other days the action takes place at the gym or in time spent with my family so I can focus the next day.
OK, so you’re probably reading this for some real advice on how I started my business, gained clients, and everything in between. That will be covered in the next few posts. I wanted to give the narrative background first, as I feel it is very important. Let me know in the comments if there is anything specific you’d like me to answer. I will do my best!