Is Consulting for You?

Two women ditched their jobs to become successful consultants — and they love it

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Do you have what it takes to ditch your day job and become a consultant? Or launch your own consulting business after you’ve retired? That depends.

It certainly makes sense to parlay the skills you’ve used for years on your job into a career where you’re at the helm.

Dorothy Madden, a 55-plusser, operates Organize It!, a professional organizing service in Rochester. Founding her sole proprietorship grew from her penchant for — you guessed it — organizing.

She had been working for Northeastern Retail Lumber Association as an office manager when the organization decided to move to Albany in 1997. She wanted to stay put, so Madden threw herself into preparing for her replacement.

Another employee wondered why she wasn’t organizing for other people for a living because Madden was so good at it.

“Her comment made me think I should do this,” Madden said. “Organizing is a natural thing for me, to make things more user friendly and efficient.”

That’s exactly what she’s been doing ever since, but her success didn’t just fall in her lap.

Madden has a master’s degree in education and had worked as a teacher — all skills she now uses when educating clients. She also joined the National Association of Professional Organizers to learn more about organizing. She researched the Rochester market and learned only one professional organizer served the region at that time. A mentor in the business who was moving out of the area helped Madden write a business plan and learn the Rochester market.

Madden advises others seeking entrepreneurship to do due diligence to the market (is the service needed in the area?), their passion (do you really, truly want to do this for a living?) and their ability to manage a business.

The last item can make all the difference, since not everyone who possesses talent and passion and lives in the right market also possesses the ability to organize, launch and operate a business effectively.

Madden felt she lacked sufficient business management acumen and connections, so she joined business organizations to help her build her network and learn. In fact, her first two years, she focused intensely upon networking.

She also needed to educate potential clients on her services, which were fairly new in the late 1990s. Madden thinks that early — and continued — publicity in local media has particularly helped her business, as has maintaining an online presence.

In addition to business management skills, sole proprietors need soft skills.

“Communication is so important,” Madden said. “You need excellent listening skills. So much is revealed by just your listening.”

Though she’s now quite experienced in professional organizing, she still networks with the local chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals twice a year.

She believes the experience helps her stay charged up and refreshed with new ideas.

It’s that kind of openness that often draws people like Madden to consulting type of business opportunities.

Sometimes opening up the mind to new possibilities comes slowly, as it did years ago for Linda C. Heeler, now 56 and a professional certified coach.

Heeler operates Live Inspired Life Coaching in Rochester. She also serves as the incoming president of Rochester Women’s Network. Heeler had been working as a dental hygienist for 25 years and felt “stuck” in her career and life, especially since her children had left the nest. She needed a change.

After hiring a career coach in 2008, Heeler realized that coaching was her “purpose and passion,” she said. “I didn’t think about how to set it up as a business.”

Like Madden, Heeler began networking and completed training in her new profession. Heeler trained with the International Coach Federation, which provides an accredited coach training program. Heeler had to complete and graduate from the program, sit for an exam and complete 750 client hours with only 20 percent as pro bono to achieve the credential of professional certified coach.

It takes more than skill and passion to launch a business. As with Madden, Heeler needed outside help to learn how to structure and operate her budding company. Greater Rochester SCORE helped her set up the business.

“I don’t know what I would have done without SCORE,” Heeler said.

Heeler said that many life coaches stay in touch to support each other emotionally and socially, since working as a sole proprietor can become isolating.

She encourages others working solo to “find people who can support you to get back up on your feet and get moving again” when they feel defeated.

“That support can also mean support in getting out into the community,” Heeler added. “Unless you have a totally online business, you need to create relationships and get out there, especially with coaching, where people want to get to know you before they spend money on your services.”