Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Life by Sam Huleatt

How Consulting Paid for 50% of my MBA


Recently someone wrote me asking for advice on how to break into the world of consulting. I thought the best way to address this was through a post on my personal experience…

When I was 24 I lost my job. I won’t get into specifics, but it was a difficult time because everything I had worked so hard for suddenly seemed to have been stripped away from me. At the time I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I did not want to put my trust into another corporate experience for a long, long time. I wanted to do something on my own, but at 24 with only a college degree, what could I do? Fortunately I had three primary assets working for me:

1) I had a severance that allowed me a two-month runway

2) I had experience in starting a company from scratch, including the fact that I was fairly in-tune with technology and networking

3) I was located in Washington, DC

The first thing I did after creating a detailed budget for myself was to figure out what I was good at – what value I could provide to a client. At the time, not having any substantial degree or experience, my main value was in low rates (I’d undercut anyone) understanding spreadsheets and some international finance experience.

Since I knew I was going to be sending out a resume to a diverse array of business-types, I created three resume variations, each emphasizing different skill-sets. I also created an online presence for myself, which at the time consisted of a personal webpage that was really an online CV. I also got snippets of business plans and RFPs I had worked on, redacted the confidential information and prepared them as examples of work I had done.

The primary place I sought opportunities was Craigslist. Craigslist, specifically Craigslist Gigs, is great because it attracts lots of contract-type positions and the pool of talent applying is much smaller than say Hotjobs so the response rate is much higher. Through copious research, I  was also privy to a number of other niche websites where I could troll for temporary job opportunities, or networking events.  I also signed up for a statistics class at Johns Hopkins University – a move that would later pay off in huge dividends. At the time, my reasoning was that not only could I ‘bolster my resume’ with more statistics, but saying I was student could open the door to lots of new opportunities. I was particularly interested in the fact that I would get a .jhu email address. I knew firsthand from a previous job the power of parlaying the “starving studentâ€� card. I also joined a number of organizations where I felt the affiliation would bolster my credibility: I joined NetImpact and an Organization for local entrepreneurs and CEO’s.

From there it was just a matter of responding to lots of opportunities. I created template responses I could customize to save me from having to write unique responses from scratch each time.

At first, there was no gig that was too small. I’d write a business plan for a startup, go in and crunch numbers at a non-profit for a week, or even create a power point for for a busy execuitve. Soon however, I began to get some really interesting offers and I ended up with such amazing opportunities as 1) writing a business plan for economic development in south of St. Lucia (sponsored by the government of St. Lucia) 2) working with the executives of the YMCA of America 3) working for a VC helping to structure an acquisition.

Ultimately I ended up as a full-time student at Hopkins getting an MBA, rather than enrolling at SAIS (my original intention). However, my consulting opportunities were so personally rewarding and lucrative that I ended up consulting all throughout the two years of my MBA. When I graduated, knowing that I could survive on my own gave me the confidence to start my own company. However, even if I had not started my own company, my experience consulting definitely would have afforded a business-experience advantage over my classmates. My work also allowed me to experience a number of industries without having to make a long-term commitment in that field. Overall it was one of the best career moves I think I could have made.

Currently if I were just setting out as a consultant, here are a few things I would do:

1) Download and use Skype as much as possible to save money on calls. I would use Grand Central or Skype-Out to have an official ‘office’ phone number

2) Create a robust online presence. Have a blog with links to a LinkedIn profile, examples of work, etc. Maybe even include some testimonials

3) Set up alerts and use RSS to monitor for interesting opportunities, as they emerge

4) Outsource some of the work, including looking for opportunities to companies mentioned in the 4-hour Work Week

5) Make sure to have a reliable laptop computer. I’d likely stick to Mac

6) Use free applications like Freshbooks and Basecamp to manage clients

7) Make better use of tax shelters for self-employed individuals

Any soloists/freelancers/consultants out there have more tips? Add them to the comments

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  • http://www.exquance.com Daniel

    Great post! Very encouraging even for a 30 year old guy. Thanks! Here's my tip – I use this great app for project management to keep all the important things in one place – it's called Wrike. Feel free to check it out at http://www.wrike.com/

  • http://www.leveragingideas.com Sam Huleatt

    @Daniel Appreciate the kind words. I'll definitely check out
    Wrike…also be on the lookout for Workstreamr when it makes its debut

    On Wed, Feb 27, 2008 at 3:42 AM, Disqus

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    Thanks for writing this, I had been doing some consultant work but really put it off; now I'm thinking I shouldn't have.

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    You have some really great ideas about getting into consulting. I like that you didn’t let losing your job stop you from achieving success. “Craigslist is great because it attracts lots of contract-type positions and the pool of talent applying is much smaller than say Hotjobs so the response rate is much higher.” I have always avoided Craiglist because I didn’t think that I could trust the people on there but you changed my opinion about Craiglist.

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    business entry stratagy adopted by you is excellent

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    Thanks for the inspiring post! I actually paid my way through grad school with an online business I started and I feel I gained more experience by actually going out and starting my own company. Being in a classroom could only give me so much knowledge but the actual hands-on approach goes much farther because you learn valuable lessons on the way. I definitely agree with the tax shelters! There are several things I wish I would have known then that I know now but I guess that's all part of the learning experience.

    Amanda, owner of Personal Checks company

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    That'a a good experience for me to consider my own life, and encourage me to prepare for the future.

  • http://www.aspectinvestments.co.uk Aspect Investments

    I think consulting only really works when you are a specialist in your field. Its not easy to set up as a consultant. You need to have many years experience and a proven track record before people will pay for your services as a consultant.

  • http://www.leveragingideas.com Sam Huleatt

    I'd beg to differ —

    I think it's not easy to establish yourself but with some
    determination and an ability to network you can pull it off,
    especially as a student as I descrive (I was not consulting full-time)

  • http://www.leveragingideas.com Sam Huleatt

    I'd beg to differ —

    I think it's not easy to establish yourself but with some
    determination and an ability to network you can pull it off,
    especially as a student as I descrive (I was not consulting full-time)

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    Do you really need an MBA? Or are you just filling your time to make yourself feel important or smart. Think about it.

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    Hi Sam just wanted to add to the discussion and to support your comment;

    “I think it's not easy to establish yourself but with some
    determination and the ability to network you can pull it off…”

    This is inspiring and insightful to many others. All too often we block our selves by Dis-empowering and creating a negative self fulfilling prophecy.

    Thank you.

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    Currently I am MBA student. Consultancy service are helpful to some education field. It’s give a little opportunity to get a good discount from our MBA education fees.