Is Consulting in the Future for You?

By Celia Wu posted 02-03-2019 13:37


Is Consulting in the Future for You?

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For those of us who work in digital media, the presence of consultants speckled throughout our workplaces is a mainstay.  We work alongside consultants to launch new system integrations, we listen to consultants give insights and recommendations on business transformation, we reduce some of our work burden when we outsource to consultants.

Some of us have also found ourselves becoming consultants at one point or another in our careers.  For some, it’s an experiment; for some others, a necessity; and still for some others, a fulfillment of a dream to control one’s own brand and how we want to spend our time and efforts.

I interviewed two independent consultants for Beeler.Tech to get their take on consulting life, and to share some advice with those of you who may be curious about consulting.  Given the shakiness of full time employment at publishers and ad tech companies, consulting really is an inevitable consideration for any of us who have spent any time in this volatile digital media industry.

I also have a theory about why ad ops and ad tech people become consultants.  I have found that many of the roles we’ve played at digital media companies make us natural consultants.  Ad ops people are by nature problem solvers, so we fit right in on tactical consulting projects. Ad ops people are asked to give expert advice on the ad tech stack and inventory management, so we fit right in on strategic consulting projects.

I interviewed independent consultants Rodney Newby and Stefanie Beach for this article.  This could be your story -- so please read on! Like many of you, both Rodney and Stefanie have deep roots in ad operations with Rodney coming from the publisher side and Stefanie coming from the world of SSPs and DSPs.

“Resourcefulness  is what led me to consulting”, Rodney recounts.  “I have always wanted something to fall back on. After being asked for years by independent publishers if I did consulting work, I decided to start my consulting business, The Cristopher Group LLC, in 2011 while working full-time, sensing another market slowdown.”

Stefanie started freelancing after being laid off.  “After a few months of looking for a full time job, I realized what I wanted didn’t exist.  I decided to do this full time and established SMB Media Consulting.”

I asked Rodney and Stefanie how they thought their work as consultants was making an impact.  What problems are they trying to solve and what’s different when looking at companies from a consultant perspective?

Rodney believes that independent consultants can make greater connections with clients, knowing the only agenda he is answerable to is the client’s, and not a large firm.  “I am bound by contract by the client and have more freedom to move their business forward without restriction. I feel I can have a more direct impact this way.”

  Stefanie mused that consulting can be a lonely place -- but not in a negative way.  It’s just “all on you, figuring out motivation and driving new business.” She added that balancing total control and “letting go”  is essential -- for instance, trusting (and developing) people you bring on board to help. “Hiring and doing all this for another company didn’t allow me to have the same appreciation for it, but it also at times forces me to realize just how unnecessary a lot of the corporate nonsense was.”

It is no surprise that some of the downsides of the consulting life is the lack of a steady paycheck and benefits.  But even with the stress, Stefanie shared she hadn’t been this happy in a long time. She’s enjoying the journey. Rodney remains open to a full-time role -- but it’s got to be the right role. Although Rodney is still figuring it out, he believes the answer lies somewhere in between a part-time role with a company mixed with consulting projects.

Both described the challenge of finding new clients, and new talent to support those clients, nerve wracking.  With businesses under pressure to keep as much in-house as possible, one needs to meet the rejections with mettle and persevere.

So how about training and development and personal / professional growth as a consultant?  Rodney shared that he’s “had to loosen the more introverted parts of my personality.” Stefanie is “more open to asking the tough questions up front”, whilst becoming a better salesperson.  No doubt, networking, hustle, and closing are essential traits consultants need.

I asked Rodney if independent consulting has altered his view of our digital media industry.  In his words, “I’m not sure if consulting has changed my view of the future of our industry as much as it has confirmed that everyone is having the same industry problems. I’ve also seen that publishers can be better competitors by being better partners in driving change, creating standards and consistency in the business together.”

I asked Stefanie what top advice she would give to those of you who are considering consulting.  In her words, “Independent consulting isn’t easy. Yes it has benefits but there is a lot to think about and consider. How are you going to market yourself? How many projects can you take at one time, how are you charging for your time, how are you finding new business? You also have to think about steady income, what happens when things are slow, insurance, etc. But on the upside, you create your own schedule, you get to work remotely, you can work with some amazing clients, build some great relationships and have the best work/life balance there is. It really is a big decision and should be weighed carefully. There is also a lot of rejection, so don’t take it all personally and keep pushing ahead.”

Many thanks to Rodney and Stefanie for so candidly sharing their experience as independent consultants.  And should your company need consulting help, here’s how to reach them!

Rodney Newby, The Cristopher Group LLC,

Stefanie Beach, SMB Media Consulting,

Celia Wu is currently head of global sales ops at Vice Media LLC.  She is also an advisor to a start-up dedicated to the sustainability of quality journalism.




02-07-2019 14:12

@Eleni Palmos@Stefanie Beach @Rodney Newby
Interesting points, both!  I wonder how independent consultants "compete" against the high price, blue chip consulting firms like Accenture, PWC, etc.  Any success stories of winning business from such firms?  What does it take?  What will it take?  What do independent consultants have that these blue chip firms, don't, and vice versa?  This is a question for all!

02-07-2019 12:43

Hi Eleni, 

There is a lot that goes into making the decision to consult. I observed the same thing and laughed. Those big traditional consulting groups take these young smart fresh minds and mold them to do, say and consult the way they want. I am not sure what advice they are really able to give when they haven't experienced anything real yet. I personally believe hands  on experience and years of learning can't be matched by an Ivy League diploma. If I were you giving my friend advice I would be honest with her about what her goals and expertise are? Yes its great to make your own schedule and have a better work/life balance. But a whole new slew of stress comes along with consulting, especially if you are looking to work for yourself. Make sure there is a marketplace for what she does and her level of knowledge. How does she plan on finding business, what is going to be her core offering, can she do all the work herself, etc. If she is looking to work for a consultant agency make sure she does her research and understands the type of clientele she would be working with. What is expected of her and if she would be staffed on projects outside her comfort zone. However, in short....I would hire someone with 10 years experience over an Ivy league grad any day! :)

02-07-2019 06:51

Save me from supporting a bad move or doling out terrible advice.

Through the years, I have met and/or read about relatively recent Ivy League grads (not sure if it is undergrad or grad) who work for McKinsey Consulting. This suggests to me that one does not need many years of business experience under their belt.

Fast forward to a conversation with a friend who has a CPA but does not hold a degree from a prestigious school. She has 10 years working in taxation and accounting but in other industries. Her first adtech accounting job was for two years but "high touch" as she got involved in many projects. She is now at a media company. Could she work as a well-paid consultant and would it afford her the work-life balance she craves in order to focus on her family?

I thought it was a good idea! What is the reality on the ground though?