A few years ago when I left full-time work as a clinical psychologist to be a stay-at-home mom, I dreamed of one day parlaying my professional experience into a part-time consulting career—one that, ideally, could be combined with motherhood a bit more easily than my former office job. Today, I’ve got a part-time contract with a health-services nonprofit to consult on a multi-stage project.
Thinking of starting a working-mama-friendly, freelance consulting career of your own? Here are some tips that worked for me:
Claim your expert status. Even if some days all you feel expert at is nursing an infant while simultaneously supervising a toddler’s potty-chair session, don’t forget—nor downplay—all the (other) in-demand skills, training, and experience you possess. Someone will pay you for your professional expertise; you just have to own it.
Work your connections. You know all those former colleagues, bosses, and clients from prior jobs? Keep in touch with them. You never know who might need your skills in the future. My current gig is with an agency I worked for two jobs ago, and the person in charge of the project (and thus, in charge of deciding who to hire as the project consultant) is a former co-worker who still knows—and likes—me.
Research typical market fees. Ask around to get a feel for what consultants charge in your field, as well as how services are billed (per hour? by project? what about reimbursement for travel time, such as for client meetings?). Then name your price, and decide ahead of time if you are willing to negotiate or provide discounted services.
Be persistent. Promote yourself to anyone and everyone with whom you could envision a consulting relationship, and don’t give up if no work materializes immediately. Remind people of your skills and professional consulting interests, and touch base with possible clients occasionally—in an appropriate, professional manner, of course—to check on current project needs. A potential client could remember your name—and your consulting availability—when you least expect it.
In the end, it’s all about believing in the skills you have, identifying market availability, and remaining visible to people with potential consultant needs. Freelance consulting can be a flexible way to combine paid work with the relentless demands of mothering. If I can do it, so can you!
Shannon Hyland-Tassava is a psychologist, consultant, writer, and full-time at-home mom to two girls, ages three and 11 months. She lives near Minneapolis with her family. She writes about her adventures in modern motherhood at her blog, Mama in Wonderland (www.mamainwonderland.blogspot.com).