The vast majority of senior professionals don’t want to “retire.” They have interesting, fulfilling work that they’d like to continue — just not at the frenetic pace of top corporate jobs. That’s why so many, lured by the promise of flexible hours, higher rates, and location independence, are intrigued by the idea of becoming a consultant or coach when they retire from their “official” career. Of course, competition for these plum positions is growing. A 2016 study estimated that there are more than 53,300 professional coaches worldwide, and the British paper The Independent pegged the number of management consultants at 500,000.
How can you differentiate yourself in a crowded field filled with your high-level peers (54% of coaches are age 50+)? Here are five things to keep in mind if you’d like to become a consultant or coach after you retire.
Give yourself sufficient runway. Any career change is disruptive to a certain extent. The more time you give yourself to plan and prepare, the better off you’ll be (one to two years is good, and three to four years is better). Albert DiBernardo, who is now the head of strategy and development for a major engineering firm, told his board three years ago that he’d be retiring at age 65, and in his performance review last year set a specific departure date: December 31, 2017. “My ‘new beginning’ was cast in that moment,” he said, “and it felt great.”
Though some people might be concerned about acquiring “lame duck” status, giving your company plenty of time for succession planning allows you to make a thoughtful departure and cap your career knowing your legacy is in good hands. Even if you prefer not to tell colleagues about your intentions so far in advance, creating your own internal timetable can allow you to plan your finances and any life changes (moving, selling your house, etc.) that your retirement and new career might entail.
Do a skills analysis. Over the years you’ve probably become an expert in your field. But becoming an independent coach or consultant requires a suite of entrepreneurial abilities on top of your subject matter knowledge. If you’ve given yourself a sufficient planning horizon, you can take the opportunity to bolster necessary skills, such as public speaking and social media. (I’ve created a free self-evaluation tool kit to help you determine where it’s most fruitful to focus your efforts.)
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You might also consider pursuing a certification — though debates rage about whether these are worthwhile — or taking targeted courses to accelerate your knowledge. They could be executive education courses offered by universities, or programs offered directly by professionals about everything from creating online courses to becoming a recognized expert.
Start recruiting clients. Too many aspiring coaches and consultants waste time at the outset dithering about the administrative details of their business, like what color their logo should be. All of that is a moot point until you have actual clients, so recruiting them should be your first priority. To gain experience as a coach or consultant, take on a few volunteer clients on the side, while you’re still employed, in exchange for testimonials and future referrals (assuming it’s a good experience).
As a seasoned professional, you may have an advantage that your younger colleagues don’t: a network you’ve spent decades building, including other senior leaders who can hire you.
As you approach your retirement date, start letting your existing contacts know about your future plans, as they may become your initial clients. Roxann Kriete, the former head of an education nonprofit and the subject of a profile in my book Reinventing You, did zero marketing for her new consulting business when she retired, because she’d already received offers for more consulting work than she could handle.
Similarly, DiBernardo has been lining up future clients not through any hard-core sales tactics but simply by sharing his plans with longtime colleagues who appreciate his talents. “I’ve had some relatively senior professionals say that they would hire me in a heartbeat to coach them,” he says. “Unbeknownst to me, they say I already have, all these years.”
Prepare your marketing. Depending on the amount of consulting work you’d like to take on, you may never have to market yourself; your existing network may offer up all the work you’d like. But if you want or need to expand beyond that, make sure you’re focused on the right things. Some professionals spend untold hours on surface accoutrements like their business card design or what their “slogan” should be. (If you can dream up something catchy, great, but no consultant or coach actually needs one.)
Recognize the goal of your marketing: establishing a baseline of credibility for when a potential client checks you out. Focus on creating a professional-looking website with testimonials and a social media presence on at least one channel, so that there’s a reasonable amount of information about your business online. For instance, you could blog on LinkedIn or another professional site.
Give yourself a break. Starting a coaching or consulting business can feel overwhelming, since there’s pressure to tackle everything at once. So start slow. Most senior professionals don’t want to immediately dive into the hurly-burly of a new career; 52% of respondents to a Merrill Lynch survey reported taking a sabbatical of some length after their official retirement. Even when you’re not officially working, you can spend that time preparing in a low-key way, such as building your skills and lining up future clients, as described above.
When you’re launching a new consulting venture, it’s easy to get distracted by the multiplicity of options — there are plenty of business-building activities you could be pursuing. Focus on getting the important things right: Understand what skills you can bring to your clients, leverage your network to find them, and then market just enough to attract the right amount of new clients, whether you’re looking to build a robust business or simply stay engaged with a few projects on the side.
Consulting and coaching — which are flexible, interesting, and often high-prestige — are ideal second careers for retired professionals. Competition is fierce, but by following the steps above you can lay the groundwork for a fulfilling venture that you can pursue for the rest of your life.