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So what is it like to be a product manager - consultant?

So I now consult for early-stage startups. I get asked quite a bit, how that works. Especially since - Product management is so vast. What do you end up doing when you consult? Well, I don’t know what you should do, but I’ll give you some gist.

So context - I quit my job, during this time & decided to figure out what next. For personal reasons, I cannot commit to a full time - in-person role in India (I know we are remote for now, but you get the picture?) Anyway, you can read more context about my story here. I also wrote a post on why you absolutely should not hire a product person yet. This article to this day is the starting of most conversations I have, and I really like that. The fact that people that want to hire, read this & tell me how it impacts their hiring conversation with me.

Okay, enough backstories? Let’s delve deeper into the process.

The process

The twitter thread + the same post on Linkedin is how I got talking to people. People I consult for now obviously peeped into my Linkedin but were all found because of Twitter. I think that is because I was personally more engaged on this platform than I am on Linkedin. So, wont say one platform is better than another, it depends on where you build your networking.

MY BIGGEST MISTAKE was that once people started reaching out to me, I kept sending them a Calendly link. I also opened my day to 8 hours & the slots were for 30 mins but always overran, so I was on call all week & I took over 50ish calls on Zoom, Google Meet, Whatsapp & just regular calls. It was too much for me. Especially because, no one would read my about page, even though I would send it, indicate it, etc. I get the other person was busy, so I completely get why they didn’t find the time, but imagine a person repeating this page and then some so many times. I am still so mentally drained that I don’t network or talk to people on calls unless I absolutely know them( This is a bad outcome, one which I have to correct at some point). Most of these calls really weren’t fruitful for me, they were just people “exploring”, “wanted feedback” and were looking to consult themselves and wanted to learn together.

I think from these calls, maybe 20 people did a follow up call, but I made a process out of this. Lol. Such a PM move! Anyway, I made a “proposal doc” which was basically these points.

  1. Your company in a gist
  2. Me in a gist
  3. What we can do together
  4. The skills/functions/areas I can help with ( Think core PM stuff - Analytics, user research, strategy, requirement gathering etc)
  5. Pricing (aka what should my salary look like.)

Probably should not have been so open about pricing on a document, but I really dont mind this, I feel that salary anyway should be spoken widely about. So choose what info you are okay discussing on-call vs on doc. Every one of these proposals was custom done in lieu of the conversations we had, so it was very time consuming (probably should redo this & do a template version of this, tell me if you have ideas/ would do it differently!)

After this, very few people responded. So dont feel too bad? Sometimes things dont align. Few responded, fewer went on to have hiring conversation & now I have been consulting for three months.

The experience

It was first a really difficult experience to get used to THAT much context switching. When you consult, you are handling multiple things for multiple people & you should try to not drop the ball, and always be on top of things. That was very difficult to do. Especially because, whether people asked me or not, to keep my ethical integrity I took consulting only if every opportunity was from completely different sectors. Which meant, every day was me doing research from scratch & no transferable knowledge I could bring from Firm A to Firm B. The first month was very hard on me because I had to show these folks I walk with that I was legit and I could do this & I was worth the time they were putting. So every day I would put in like 18-hour shifts, send email invites at maybe 4 am. Now I think I have got the hang of it better? I am not too sure, every day is completely different.

At any given day - I may be - writing copies, having hiring conversations, putting a strategy document, refining a process, attending meetings, etc. It is always different. It is also because not everyone has a defined process of PM function. So their ask is very undefined & I must admit sometimes I dont fully understand it as well! But, that is the job, you have to figure it out.

The lessons

Dont feel bad to charge for your time like I said lot of folks that extended my calls were all people asking product feedback & want to know more. Basically free advice & they were offering me nothing in return. There were no connections, job offers or they were not recommending me to people. You have to absolutely remember that you DONT have a job currently and that means your priority must be feeding yourself, no one else gets this. People are so used to writing in for feedback, they will use this slot on your calendar to do exactly that. Not their fault entirely, but get a job before you do this.

Consulting is not cheaper. I put more time & effort on things because I have no peer or people to fall back on, it is just me. Please stop telling people - That it will be cheaper to hire a full-time role. You are looking for someone to quickly churn & do things for you in a few months. You expect a lot of ownership from this person, they are not cheap labor. If you only want this person to say do one core PM function - Like strategy/ feature gathering, then tell the person that upfront and adjust charges, but if you want everything they offer, pay the everything price.

Dont do too many gigs. I dont know what your threshold is, but dont do too many things, you really cant spread too thin. You will hate yourself for this. (IS this my personal diary entry? LOL)

Work on interesting ideas/new markets. IF you plan to go back to a fulltime job, work on things that are very different, so you have lots to learn. It will be a mutual learning experience. Rather than repeating the models, you have worked on.

Have a schedule. I try and not take calls over the weekend & dont respond unless needed after I switch off my laptop. All my work emails are also NOT on my phone, it restricts me from inherently being available 24/7. When you work with early-stage companies, this tends to happen, but try & be away from this.

Send your invoices early. Send your bills right before they are to be paid, so no delay occurs. I work with good folks, so payment hasn’t been an issue yet, but this is an advice other freelance folks gave me.

I must have missed some things, maybe I will come to update it later. For now, I think anyone reading this, knows pretty much all I know.

If you want to have a consulting opportunity, hit me up :) I can probably find & connect you to people or me :D . IF you are looking for an opportunity, and want to discuss, I will not have anything more than this post to say, I rarely hold back. IF you are consulting, tell me what I should do differently!

Published 7 Jul 2020

Always looking for learning opportunities in product and life.
Vindhya C on Twitter