For an increasing number of Senior Executive Service members approaching retirement and/or career transition, executive consulting has become the leading option for what comes next. It’s no wonder. The structure of the U.S. workforce and how work gets done is changing dramatically. The good news is that opportunities are increasing for executives who choose freelancing as part of the gig economy.

The gig economy typically provides organizations and individuals opportunities for short or intermediate term engagements for independent workers rather than traditional full time employees. Gig economy workers are sometimes referred to as part of the contingent workforce, performing tasks as required. Tasks may be one time projects or a series of continuing or intermittent services which are often handled on a retainer basis.

The gig economy is huge and growing

In her October, 2018 CNBC @Work article “4 Gig Economy Trends that are radically transforming the US Job Market,” Susan Caminiti notes “the gig economy is now composed of 60 million workers…and by 2027 the majority of workers in the U.S. will be contract workers.” The four contributing trends are: An “uptick” in fully remote companies, the proliferation of blockchain systems, greater use of contract employees by Fortune 500 firms and “more robust networking among freelancers.”

Executive consulting means freedom

You decide what to do, how much to do, when to work and where to work. Typically retired federal executives have a path to executive consulting which focuses on their expertise, experience in specific agencies, program insights, as well as the professional network of colleagues and contacts. It’s rewarding to remain engaged in their community of practice, help people solve problems and in a true sense continue their public service albeit in a different role.

Executive consulting also means you’re on your own

Many of us have worked with wonderfully talented people in government organizations that provided a complete range of administrative, information technology and program support. It won’t take long for you to recognize how much you miss the crew. Learning to handle every aspect of your new role is challenging but very doable. Also over a period of time you will become part of a network of consultants who help each other when needed.

Understand your value to clients

Stay focused on what you know best. Your greatest value to clients will be related to your community of practice, contacts and specific skill sets, e.g. public policy, national security, financial management, information technology, acquisitions, technical and program expertise, etc. You may choose to pursue other opportunities in unfamiliar areas, but you will likely learn that such opportunities are harder to find and perhaps less rewarding, in part due to the additional amount of research and analysis you’ll need to do to make sure you are providing accurate and complete advice.

Trust and Integrity Remain Cornerstones of the Work You Do

The Office of Government Ethics requirements remain in effect for retired senior executives. We might all think that a reminder is unnecessary but it’s important to constantly be mindful of the high standards we observe, and to feel free to contact OGE or legal counsel before taking any action which might be questionable. The Senior Executive’s Association is particularly vigilant when it comes to OGE compliance matters.

Consider a part time consulting gig while you’re still working for the government

Executives are permitted to engage in outside employment, subject to review and approval by agency management and legal counsel. Taking part in a special outside project with another organization, non-profit work or teaching a course at a local university are examples of activities that are likely permissible, subject to agency approval.

Full Disclosure: It’s not easy

Finding opportunities, negotiating agreements, invoicing, tracking down payments and handling all of the paperwork can be daunting in the early going. Fortunately retirees have one huge advantage to counter one of the great downsides of independent work. You have your retirement income, and benefits such as health insurance to rely upon. Nevertheless it’s challenging to deal with some of the uncertainties related to consulting work. Getting prompt responses from some agencies or arranging meetings can take longer than you recall.

Keep It Simple

Avoid Over-Thinking and Extraordinary Preparations. If you’re planning on being a one person sole proprietorship operation, save yourself some time and energy by keeping things simple. It’s good to outline your thoughts and plans, but unless you really enjoy such things or your circumstances are special there’s likely no need for a comprehensive written business plan, create a website or rent an office space.

Relax and enjoy the experience

In her February 6, 2019 iOffice blog, Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers identified “10 Gig Economy Statistics You Won’t Believe,” among them “Over 75% of contingent workers say they would not leave freelance work behind for a full time job.” For most the independence, flexibility and control of work-life balance are key factors in deciding to continue freelancing.

Get started with the basics

Here’s a short checklist of things you will likely want to do, or may be required to do:

  • Consult with legal counsel or research options for a sole proprietorship, a limited liability company (LLC) or other legal entity.

  • Check with state and local authorities about requirements for registration, permits etc. For example through a State Corporation Commission website, you will typically find helpful information, research tools and the requirements necessary to register your business entity.

  • Also through county websites you will likely find helpful information about the requirements (if any) to obtain a business license and pay business taxes on tangible property, desktop, printer, etc.

  • Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) through the Internal Revenue Service. It’s easy to do online, or by mail.

  • Independent workers are often referred to as “1099’s”, after the number of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) form used to report annual income. You should know that individual workers are required to file quarterly estimated tax payments to IRS, and state governments where applicable. This activity is usually relatively straightforward and typically not time consuming.

  • Research and consider acquiring commercial business insurance covering professional liability or other coverages as recommended by your legal counsel. Sources for providing business insurance are readily available on the Internet. Also some homeowner’s insurance policies provide an option for coverage.

Take advantage of the benefits available to members of the Senior Executives Association

SEA has partnered with the Government Freelance Exchange, GovFlex to provide support. SEA members who register with GovFlex immediately become VIP consultants as part of a nationwide network of businesses, government agencies and experts. Members receive assistance in establishing an online profile, an expanded universe of opportunities and streamlined processes to facilitate project tracking and payment.

For those senior executives who accept the challenges of career transition and starting something new, becoming an executive consultant offers many benefits. The results can be fulfilling and rewarding. It’s important to remember that SEA and GovFlex are available resources to help along the way.


About the author: Bob Dickson is a retired member of the Senior Executive Service with the Department of State and member of SEA. In addition to being co-founder and president of GovFlex, he also created and built two LLC’s providing executive consulting services to government agencies and contractors.

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