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Economic downturns have, over the past five or six cycles, produced a dramatic shift in the traditional employer/employee relationships.  Long-time workers are being downsized out of an organization and then brought back as consultants to handle projects for which they are particularly skilled, frequently for a very attractive fee.

Business Advice ConceptFormer employees lose what is increasingly becoming a myth — job security — but they gain the opportunity to become a member of the free agent nation.  Some former employees thrive as free agents, and some are making significantly more than they would have otherwise made.  Others flounder.  They are so uncomfortable working in an “eat what you kill” environment that they spend most of their time looking for the security of a regular paycheck.

I predict that this phenomenon, which has been fairly common in a variety of industry sectors, including oil and gas and petrochemicals, will migrate to the healthcare industry as organizations become more serious about shedding costs in anticipation of reductions in reimbursement.

It is not a matter of if, but when, in my opinion.

When this happens to you, there are some important considerations that should guide your thinking on the best way forward.

  1. If you are offered a part-time consulting agreement, think long and hard before turning it down, especially if the hourly rate or contract is reasonable.  This will either serve as a platform for you to launch a new career, or it will help you pay bills while searching for a new permanent position.
  2. If you are tempted by the allure of being your own boss, stop, take a deep breath and think it through carefully.  The romance of being your own boss will, at some point, transform to the anxiety of finding your next assignment — your next paycheck — so to speak.
  3. If you hate the process of looking for a permanent position, you should consider if your “need for security” threshold and your ability to handle rejection are two issues that you can handle because they are very real in the consulting world and never fully go away.
  4. Are you uncomfortable promoting yourself?  If so, do not spend much time fantasizing about building a business empire.  It probably won’t happen.  I am not suggesting that you descend into the world of a sales representative for the shameless commerce department, but if you do not believe you can deliver value and are not passionate about helping clients solve problems, then kick your job search into high gear because potential clients won’t hire an indecisive consultant.
  5. To be a successful free agent, it takes discipline, consistency and flexibility.  You have to be disciplined to get up every day and realize that if you do not do it, it won’t get done.  That means you have to work on existing project(s) and consistently continue to look for new business all the while praying to the business gods that everything you’re developing does not hit your desk, all at the same time.  If that happens, you have to have the life-balance flexibility to do what it takes to make hay while the sun is shining.

And while you are not worrying about those business development things, there are other worries, like clients paying their invoices on time. When the CEO of a $100 million dollar enterprise says ‘welcome to the real world of running a business,’  it rings a little hollow for the free agent who is the chief, cook and bottle washer.