Waiting Until Retirement to Find Your First Consulting Gig is a HUGE Mistake

In a previous article, I argued that announcing your retirement at work is one of the biggest financial mistakes that you can make. Not only can talking about your retirement result in lower compensation towards the end of your career, but, it can also limit your ability to work as a consultant, either for your ex-employer or one of the companies that you worked with in the past.

Today, I’d like to go a little deeper and talk about exactly how to go about getting your ex-employer to take you on as a consultant after you leave your full-time job. Along the way, I will share some advice from other pre-retirees that I have interviewed over the years.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that these techniques changed my life. Continuing to work as a consultant in the first years of “retirement” gave me the confidence and financial resources to start my own company. Had I been in a more defensive frame of mind, I probably would have never started Sixty and Me or any of my other businesses.

Here are 4 tips for getting your ex-employer to hire you in retirement.

Don’t Tell Anyone that You Are Retiring

We live in a world that celebrates retirement as a destination. Every day, we are bombarded by images of happy seniors, relaxing on the beach or playing golf.

It also doesn’t help that, financially speaking, Social Security and Medicare force us to think about 65 as “retirement age.” It doesn’t matter that “full retirement age” for Social Security may actually be 66. Most of us have age 65 stuck in our heads anyway.

The truth is that reaching “full retirement age” is not the same as “retiring.” This is an important distinction because, as soon as we tell people at work that we are retiring, they subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) start to discount our value, contribution and even intelligence.

Having talked with hundreds of soon-to-be and recent retirees, I can tell you that a much better approach is to talk about transitioning to life as a consultant or small business owner. It doesn’t matter whether you follow through on this plan. Just think of it as insurance.

When I left my last full-time job at a large technology company, my manager asked me if I wanted his assistant to organize a retirement party for me. I smiled and told him that I planned on working forever and that I would prefer to explain my plans to my colleagues and business partners personally. He was super-supportive once he understood my thinking.

Over the next 6 years, while I grew Sixty and Me, I took on projects with multiple teams from my ex-employer. I am convinced that none of these opportunities would have presented themselves had I told everyone that I was “retiring,” in a traditional sense.

Plan Your Consulting Business *Before* You Leave

Don’t wait until you are officially retired to start your consulting business. Even if your current contract prevents you from taking on side work or partnering with people in your industry, there is nothing stopping you from planning your future business.

For example, I wish that I had taken the time to build a simple website before I left my last job. Not only would I have had a place to point my colleagues and business partners in the final days of my career, but, going through this process would have helped me to decide exactly what kind of work I was interested in taking on.

There are so many small ways to prepare for a post-career business. One recent retiree, David, told me, “When I was getting ready to leave my job at an advertising agency, I actually handed out business cards for my new consulting business. I think that taking this step really helped to make the whole process of becoming a consultant much more ‘real.’ 10 years later, I still work with many people at my old company. I don’t make as much, but, I also don’t work nearly as many hours!”

Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open for Opportunities

Like many people who have started successful consulting businesses in retirement, I actually found my first project before I left my career behind.

Despite the fact that I gave several months’ notice, in the days leading up to my departure, my employer was still having difficulty finding someone to take over the management of one of its community websites. I jumped on the opportunity and offered to take over management of the website for a fraction of the cost that it would take them to hire a full-time employee.

Trust me when I say that you will never be in a better position to look for consulting opportunities than when you are still working for your current employer. You know their strengths and weaknesses. You may even know how much it costs them to hire new employees. So, don’t wait until you are an outsider! Start planning your first projects while you are still sitting at the table!

If I had it all to do over again, I would have also taken advantage of any opportunity to visit industry events and take part in partner meetings in the final days of my career. Like many older adults, I was pretty much “done with travel” by the time I left. I should have taken more time to strengthen my business relationships, outside of my employer, before going it alone.

Be Honest with Your Manager and Other Execs About Your Desire to Work

“Retirement” is such a powerful concept that your coworkers and manager may assume that you have no desire to work in the future. Truth be told, they are probably a little bit jealous of what they see as an opportunity for traveling, playing tennis, joining yoga retreats in Bali and drinking cocktails on the beach. Ha!

There is a simple antidote to this kind of thinking… honesty. Before you leave, take the time to communicate your desire to continue working to your coworkers, manager and any other key executives. The specifics are up to you, but, I would advise avoiding discussions of “needing the work.” Instead, focus on your passion for the business, desire to contribute to projects that you believe in, love for the team, etc.

Here’s what one recent retiree, Steve, told me, “Before I left my last job at a multinational pharmaceutical company, I scheduled 1:1s with over 30 people. I brought Starbucks to each of these meetings and split my time between sharing memories about the past and planning for the future. The result was that I had 3 projects lined up before I left. I didn’t want to go ‘quietly into the night.’ And, I didn’t!”

I hope that these tips help you to get your post-retirement consulting business off to a great start! If you have any of your own tips to share, please add them in the comments section below.

Do you plan on continuing to work after you “retire?” How do you plan on preparing for life as a consultant or business owner? Let’s have a conversation!