SI Review: September 2012

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The Other Side

The Higher End

Why the motivations behind a consultant’s mindset matter

By Kimberly Walsh

The trend of middle to executive-level employees going the independent route is increasing, and it’s changing your industry. The Harvard Business Review’s May 2012 article, “The Rise of the Supertemp,” estimates that the number of high-end independent contractors may soon approach 3 million in the United States. To tap into this vast talent pool, you need to understand the independent consultant’s mindset. Here’s mine.

1. Shortened work week. I can set my own schedule. It’s Friday afternoon, and I just got back from visiting Fairyland with my 3½-year-old daughter. Last week, we went to the Oakland Zoo. Next week — who knows — maybe we will go to Little Farm in Berkeley, or perhaps wander further afield to Pixieland in Concord, the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco or the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Nothing will ever be able to replace these special times we spend together every Friday.

2. Working odd hours of the day. My husband travels extensively for his job, which means that I am effectively a single mom for three to four months (cumulatively) out of the year. Full-time responsibility for my unusually active daughter (who also eschews naps), means that I need the flexibility to work many of my hours outside of what is considered “the norm.”

3. Work from anywhere. I live a significant commuting distance from the technology epicenter of Silicon Valley, where most of my extended professional network lives and works and most of my job prospects are. Being independent means I don’t have to suffer grueling commute. Further, my family often travels. When we do, I can still get a lot accomplished, and am always connected via Skype, email, and my smartphone — even if I have to take a call from the playground or send email from my daughter’s swim lesson. And these working vacations are a way for me to recharge my batteries and get my client’s work done at the same time. It’s a win-win.

As a staffing industry professional, why should you care about my work preferences? How do my reasons benefit you? I’ll tell you.

1. We can give you competitive advantage. I like what I do; I am good at what I do; and I am here to stay. The staffing firm that can quickly pivot to work with high-end temporary workers like me is sure to come out on top. We aren’t doing it because we can’t find a full-time job — we are doing it because we like it and the way that it fits our lifestyle. This workforce is comprised of many of the managers and executives that ran the departments/ divisions/companies that hired you to staff up their teams. Are you ready to help them? How is your firm adapting to take advantage of this upper-level infusion into the talent pool?

2. I’d like to use your company, but I can’t find you. There will come a time when I need more work, and I won’t be able to find it using my network. Given my flexibility requirements, I can’t be an on-site contractor who works at the client 20 to 40 hours a week for six-month stints.

I am an awesome researcher, except when it comes to firms that help independent consultants like me find projects. I’ve found plenty of firms that could place me in longer-term, on-site projects — but what about the more flexible work arrangements I need?

 I know you’re out there, but help me locate you! And once I find you — please make it easy for me to learn how (or even if ) you would work with me. Most of the websites I looked at were focused solely on the hiring company. Do you consider me part of your ecosystem? If so, talk to me too.

3. You can make more money. Although there are increasing numbers of upper-level independents in the market, there are still a lot of companies that are hesitant to use us. The managers and executives of these firms need more education about how the industry is trending and how to utilize this particular segment of the workforce within their organizations. Knowing what drives me (and other high-end independent workers) will help you assist your clients in structuring projects that will best attract the talent. And that means more money in your pocket.

Kimberly Walsh is an independent marketing consultant based out of Oakland, Calif. She has previously worked for SGI, Autodesk, and Oblix Security, and on projects for HP, Varsity Logistics, and Kagi eCommerce. She can be reached at kimberlywalsh@alumni.upenn.edu

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