I hate the insinuation that it’s easy to make it as a millennial. Because while we’ve canonized the hopes and dreams of every high school and college student that the path to fame and riches is as easy as scribbling some code onto a frosty window at Harvard, I’ve learned firsthand that the reality really isn’t so simple.
When I was in university (that’s what we call college in Canada), I thought it would be easy to start a company. After all, I had developed a passion and expertise for new technologies and social media, and saw my entrepreneurial inclinations as the path to a steady paycheck, online influence and the kind of recognition upon which I could build a long term, sustainable business.
They say we millennials aren’t willing to pay our dues, but I knew to start small, imparting my social media smarts to local businesses, friends of the family, and anyone else trying to get value from this brave new world that Mark Zuckerberg and his contemporaries – my peers, essentially – have wrought.
I was totally willing to build a book of business by giving away my services gratis and proving myself; after all, who could argue with the ROI of free? So I started doing small projects with an eye towards the future, figuring I could parlay these engagements into contract work, or at least a viable portfolio, down the line.
I had the desire and the drive, but all that changed when I partnered with a client who offered this Gen Y entrepreneur the kind of experience that starkly shows that the world of work we’re inheriting is broken. Consider it a cautionary tale.
At first, the client was welcoming and eager to guide me through the day-to-day operational challenges facing the front lines of business. After all, based on their anecdotes, it seemed like this project was tailor made for my expertise and their needs. Taking their business social would be the easiest money either of us ever made.
Of course, their experience in the corporate world soon came into competition with the project for which I was retained; they decided to “tell me how it is,” taking the reins away from the kind of meaningful change they were looking to create in the first place. I decided to reciprocate; after all, that’s what consultants are supposed to do, right?
Boy, was I wrong. Turns out that this business, like many others, purports to being concerned about the voice of Gen Y, but the moment that we turn from consumers and customers to employees, they’ll do whatever they can to stifle those voices. Which is a conundrum that cost me a contract, but earned me the kind of perspective you can only get from experience.
Young entrepreneurs are caught in a Catch-22 of needing experience to land a decent job or roster of clients, but the extremely focused and demanding course work, internships and networking opportunities that are the core of a selective University education aren’t enough.
Companies say they want innovators, but continue to hire the status quo, which leaves many millennials, myself included, out in the cold. So, we take on loads of free work and pro-bono consulting projects in the hopes that this experience can be leveraged over the long term.
But that eagerness is easy to exploit.
Making It As A Millennial: 3 Lessons For Gen Y Consultants
Here’s how to avoid getting taken in and ensure that your client or employer has an understanding of exactly what you’re both signing on for – and what resources it’s going to make the working relationship pay off for both parties:
1) Don’t Be Over Eager:
Getting a gig, or a client’s approval, isn’t as important as the work you’ll be doing there. Be confident in your product and assertive in your strategy, and build a clear business case around real, quantifiable deliverables. Ditch the consultant speak and sell your work, not yourself.
2) Ask Questions:
Don’t be ashamed to ask for advice; it’s not, as many millennials mistakenly think, a show of weakness, but rather, an assertion of leadership. The best businesses are built on collaboration – as are the best networks. Deferring to others’ expertise and leveraging their knowledge helps strengthen both.
3) Make a Strong Contract & Adhere To It:
If there’s one start up cost you can’t afford to be without, it’s a good lawyer. Businesses look at Gen Y workers, particularly those coming in as consultants, as cheap and easily exploitable labor.
By laying out a contract which includes specific workloads, and the time each will be allotted out front, you’ll let the client know what to expect – and how you’re going to deliver. You’ll also have the proper protection to make sure that your business relationship doesn’t turn abusive.
This is the “Golden Rule, ” as far as I’m concerned.
These three basic tenets for Gen Y consultants will remove a lot of second guessing and make sure that you don’t have to learn these lessons the hard way – like I did.
And if there’s one thing that our generation understands explicitly, it’s that experience counts when you’re trying to get a foothold into a long term career path.