Striking Out On Your Own


We have been seeing a lot of interest lately from scientists who want to start their own business, often as a consultant in their area of expertise. A number of different factors are coming into play to make this a more attractive option than it has been in the past.

As the baby boomer generation gets to “retirement age”, many of them want to continue working in some capacity, but at their own pace. In addition, many people who have been laid off (some more than once) want more control of their own professional lives, and less dependence on a large corporation for their financial security. Working for yourself meets both these needs.

Companies are contributing to this trend as well – as “permanent” employment opportunities are declining, the number and variety of freelance postings are increasing, and in the future work may be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

As freelancing becomes more acceptable, this is now a viable career choice, not just something to do between “real” jobs. Starting can be as easy as saying “Hey, I’m a consultant.” However, making a living at it is a little bit harder. In some ways you are your own boss, but in other ways you are always looking for your next boss (client). You get to call all the shots – then live with the consequences of the decisions you have made.

If you’re thinking about striking out on your own, there are a wealth of resources available to help you plan for success. One great place to start is Business.gov, the official business link to the US government. Just reading through their FAQ provides much food for thought, and will make you aware of issues you may not have considered.

Your local SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives) office is also a great resource, providing classes, advisors, and printed materials to help you get started in any kind of business.

You can also check out the competition at places like the Chemical Consultants Network and the Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers. Remember also that the main competition is usually not another consultant, but the person at the company who will do the job “for free”.

If you really want to be a full-time consultant, it will take time and effort, just like any job. But with some careful planning, a good network, and a lot of hard work, you can create the job you always wished you had.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).

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