After over 30 years working for big medical publishers, I hung out my shingle as a consultant in June, 2004 – about 12 years ago. What would it be like, I wondered, to get away from bureaucracy, office politics, hectoring reminders from the nice but clueless folks in HR, and hair-on-fire emails from finance guys who couldn’t read their own spreadsheets? Suppose I could just go to work and, well, work?
Pretty naïve thinking, but you know what? As a consultant, I really do just go to work and actually work on real projects, and this turns out to be the best job I’ve ever had. Here are a few reasons I’m delighted to be a publishing consultant:
- The clients: In order to confess to a prospective consultant that their organization can benefit from outside help and then (with some guidance from the prospective consultant) determine what kind of help is needed, a publishing organization actually has to understand itself pretty well and have the institutional self-confidence to look under some organizational rocks. More concretely, most consulting projects that Dan Doody and I conduct start with a request for background information – often, megabytes of it. Clients are usually able to provide the bulk of what Dan and I ask for, and they do this fairly quickly, demonstrating that they’re well organized. Ironically, then, as a consultant I don’t deal with basket cases, because they can’t organize themselves to engage me.
- Seeing the industry from multiple perspectives: Dan and I each keep up with a handful of newsletters and blogs about the publishing industry, and we also pick up more granular news as we touch base frequently with longtime friends, clients, and customers. Then we get a chance to see various trends playing out in the context of specific clients, which adds tremendous depth to our understanding. I’ve been in publishing since lead type was still the medium of choice, so having a continual flow of novel insights is a gift.
- Problem solving: As consultants, Dan and I focus on specific issues that our clients believe are very important, without getting bogged down in anyone’s day-to-day bureaucracy. I had 30-plus years of writing monthly reports, filing expense accounts, and sitting through meetings with managers I’d never see again (or want to see again.) Now, it’s all about the deliverable, and the deliverable is almost always about addressing a specific problem.
- Learning something new almost every day: No matter how much of an expert I think I am, each new client offers a unique business and organizational environment and requires me to take a fresh look, even at publishing functions that are second nature to me. Almost always, when I take a fresh look, I realize there’s some detail I’ve always taken for granted and now need to explore more carefully because that particular detail matters to that specific client.
- Knowing how I earn my money: As a consultant, I generally get paid for delivering something – reports, workshops, new business. When I’m busy, the checks are larger than when I’m not, which is sometimes challenging for the household budget but is easy to interpret. I’d rather see an occasionally fluctuating bank account than go through the agony of sitting through another annual performance evaluation.
- Lifestyle: I typically spend a few days a month seeing clients and prospects, and the rest of the time I work in a home office. This means I wear shorts and T-shirts in the summer, and jeans and sweaters in the winter. Since I’m chronically fashion challenged, this improves my life immensely. My work week isn’t short (typically, about 45 hours a week), but the commute is the time it takes me to walk up 15 steps from the kitchen table.
- The mixed blessing of pets: Psychologists say that petting a dog or cat for a few minutes is a great stress reducer, and my wife and I have two cats who do stop by my office from time to time. Stress reduction? Sometimes. Unfortunately, Spike the cat likes to chew computer peripheral cables and sometimes munches on papers on my desk; Guston the cat shows up at 5 p.m. to campaign for the dinner he never gets earlier than 6 p.m., which makes for really annoying background noises in late-afternoon phone calls.
- People who say thank you: This is actually the best thing about clients. When Dan and I conclude a job, clients almost always thank us – explicitly, appreciatively, often with a smile and/or a hug. How often did that happen in my 30+ years as a corporate guy? Not very often.
When I first started consulting, I wondered how I’d respond if some corporate publisher offered me a “dream job,” whatever that might have been. I no longer wonder – the answer is that I’m in the best job I’ve ever had, with the most satisfying work, and the most impressive colleagues I’ve ever had. This is my dream job, and I’m staying here for the duration, thank you.