“I’m excited about starting my own solo consulting practice. I’ve had some business cards and stationery printed out and have already lined up a couple of interviews for consulting work. I’ve also been approached by a local temporary employment agency that wants to place me for temporary stints with large corporations — including, ironically, the company that laid me off!
“Is this something I should consider as part of my “portfolio career”? I could use the money, but I don’t want to get so bogged down with W-2 work that I can’t build my practice.”
I get quite a few emails from people in this situation. While I can certainly understand the desire for some quick, if not easy, money while you are making the transition to an entrepreneurial career, I’ve always believed it’s best if you just go cold turkey.
Temporary employment arrangements can easily turn into time vampires that will distract you from your goal of building an independent consulting practice.
Having said that, it may take weeks or months before you land your first “real” consulting gig, so a short-term temp assignment might be a useful way to put food on the table and keep the heebie-jeebies at bay while you figure out the market for your consulting services.
Here are some tips for dealing with temp agencies:
Be up front with the agency. Most people who hire themselves out to temp agencies are looking for full-time positions. You need to tell the agency that isn’t your situation: You want to build a consulting practice and see temp work as a stopgap until you can support yourself.
Many temp agencies place independent contractors as well as employees with their clients. Ask your agency if that is an option. Just don’t look for consulting work from a company you “temped” for (more on that below).
Look for short-hour projects as opposed to short-term projects. The problem with most temporary employment assignments is that they are short-term but time-intensive. Many companies need extra help to work on specific projects — the arrangement will last only six to eight weeks but during that time they need someone to work 60 hours a week or more.
Working those kind of hours, even for a short time, won’t give you much time to go to the bathroom, let alone market your consulting business. Look instead for projects that are longer-term but lower-intensity — for example, 10 hours a week for six months. Those arrangements are rare but do exist.
If you must accept a short-term project, find creative ways to market your practice in what little spare time you have.
I actually have a consulting client who pretends to be a smoker when he works onsite at his client’s offices. He’s never actually touched a cigarette in his life, but by carrying all the paraphernalia around with him, people don’t question when he disappears for three or four “smoking breaks” per day. Just don’t inhale … and remember you may be surrounded by other “real” smokers who can spot a phony.
Watch out for “noncircumvention” language in the temp agency contract. Rarely will you find noncompete language in a temporary employment agency’s contract, but there are other provisions in the contract that can create problems for you down the road.
Every temp agency’s biggest fear is “circumvention” — the client and a temporary worker getting so cozy in their relationship that either (1) the client starts giving the worker more projects “on the side” without paying the agency their fee or (2) the client makes an offer of full-time employment to the worker after the project is completed.
Watch out for language saying you cannot “solicit or accept” other work from the client for a period of time (usually it’s one year but may be as long as two) after the temp engagement is done.
The “solicit” part is OK; you really shouldn’t be pitching business to a client you wouldn’t have known existed without the agency’s introduction. But the “accept” part isn’t. If you finish a job and the client initiates the contact with you months afterward, you should be allowed to at least consider the opportunity without risking a lawsuit from the agency.
When signing a “noncircumvention” clause, be sure the client is carefully defined. If you are working for a multinational conglomerate with hundreds of divisions and related companies, defining the client as the parent corporation “and all of its affiliates” means you cannot work for ANY of them during the restrictive period. The named client should be the specific group for which your services will actually be performed.
Make sure you can terminate an assignment at any time upon 10 days’ notice to both the agency and the client. If that perfect consulting gig comes up, you want to be able to sprout wings and fly the coop.
Disclaimer: This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.