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'How I Went from 0 to 1 as a Community Consultant'

Several months after being laid off, Joel Primack is achieving success as a community consultant. Here's how he pivoted from full-time to consulting.

In mid-January 2023, I was laid off, along with over 100 of my peers.

After taking some time to take care of myself, I shared the news and jumped into the process of figuring out what I wanted to do next.

Soon enough, the path became clear: community consulting.

Why consulting?

After being laid off, my first instinct was to lean back into what helped me land past roles — networking and posting regularly on LinkedIn. (More on this later, but I can’t recommend this enough. Without LinkedIn, I wouldn’t have the career that I have today.) 

It paid off — I landed spotlights in articles and speaking opportunities to help me build my profile. I learned that organic activities do compound and yield real, meaningful results over time. I wanted opportunities to come inbound and that’s exactly what happened. 

But these opportunities were for consulting, not full-time roles.

So I opened my mind up to the idea of working as a community consultant. And it was a good call — business has been steady. I now have two clients, so I’m fortunate enough to not need a full-time role right now. 

Sure, it wasn’t my first choice. But I’ve found that there are plenty of benefits to this style of working. A few are:

  • Remote forever guaranteed since I’m my own boss
  • Control over the work that I am open to doing (and the ability to say ‘no’)
  • Ability to set my own rates per client 

That said, I’m definitely not shutting the door on the possibility of a full-time role at this point in my career. Consulting has given me the breathing space to be really selective about which full-time opportunities I choose to pursue, if any.

How I transitioned into community consulting

I reached out to my peers

I set up a lot of calls and asked other community consultants for time to help me as I navigated this new path. 

My biggest takeaway from those calls? I had to build a business that was authentic to me, rather than trying to be or follow similar paths to those who were already in the space.

I also found a group of peers who were open to helping and supporting me on this journey — shoutout to Community Consultants Collective (CCC)!

I defined my offering

This started with pinpointing the work I wanted to do, and what I didn’t. For starters, I knew that I wanted to be in the weeds, building relationships, and making a meaningful impact through my work on the organization and the members of its community — rather than defining big-picture strategy and leaving the work to other folks.

I’ve settled into acting as what is essentially an outsourced Community Manager. In many ways, there’s not too much of a difference on being in-house vs. a consultant who is brought in to support an organization’s community. I continue to work on moderation, community-focused events and content, building processes and documentation, and designing new programs to roll out to members.

This service offering works well for me, because I value financial stability. I allocate a bucket of hours each month (easy enough to break down to the weekly and daily numbers from there) to my client contracts so I can bill a flat monthly rate. This means I’ve created a clear, predictable level of income for myself every month. 

I developed my own GTM strategy

I started posting and engaging regularly on LinkedIn, being featured in or writing articles (like this one!), speaking at events, and becoming more active in relevant communities. 

The podcast I host, The Community-Led Growth Show (Season 2 dropping summer 2023!), also turned out to be a huge help here. It's another avenue for building my personal brand, and a really unique one at that. With it, I’m able to:

  1. Learn from my guests both during our recording conversations, as well as before/after too (I love the inside scoop).
  2. Build meaningful, authentic relationships with my guests and showcase their amazing work in the community space. 
  3. Prioritize DEIBA efforts to make sure I create an inclusive environment for guests and have guests from all different types of backgrounds, geographies, levels in organizations, etc.

I recently got confirmation that my strategy is resonating with company leaders. I had two VPs at separate organizations reach out to discuss opportunities to support their community efforts. 

Nothing beats reaping the benefits of all your brand-building work! 

I learned to say no

I’ve said no to full-time and consulting opportunities. I firmly believe that both parties need to feel comfortable and confident to enter into an agreement. If one side doesn’t, that party already has one foot out the door, and that’s not the position I want to put myself in, especially financially.

Over time, I’ve learned to identify the types of organizations and communities I wanted to work with, and those I’m better off politely declining.

There are no hard-and-fast rules on how to do this: it’s a muscle you build over time by having candid conversations with people about what they need from you. If I believe I’m not the best person for the role, I’ll happily refer them to a peer and clear up my pipeline for opportunities that are “in play.” By having a clean pipeline, I’m able to focus on each opportunity and be incredibly thoughtful and intentional about them.

I developed a new style of working

To help me transition into a community consultant role, let alone be successful in it, I had to develop new work practices. 

The two big ones are:

Building a healthy daily routine

Each day I do the daily challenge for my favorite solitaire game, get Starbucks, and do the Wordle with my mom (and love her post on Facebook when she shares our results, of course). I talk with my parents and sister at least once a day — it’s important to prioritize your family. 

I also aim to walk or run/work out to help me mentally and bring clarity. This time is usually the break I give myself after working for the day before I go into “night mode” to unwind and relax before bedtime (ideally around 9 p.m.). 

Time blocking on one calendar

Right now, I live and die by my calendar on my personal cellphone. I create dedicated calendar blocks for each consulting client every day, along with any other items I have going on that day. I have a separate calendar for work calls.

Time is my most precious resource, so I review my calendar regularly to help me prioritize and remove things from it if they don’t align with my goals. Setting these boundaries has been really important both in task management and protecting my mental health.

My metrics for consulting success

My measure for success as a consultant is pretty simple: whether or not I’m in (or extremely close to) the monthly income range I set for myself to make this venture worthwhile. 

Currently, I’m just under it with my two clients after being impacted by the layoff about 4.5 months ago. Overall, I feel good about it, but there’s room for improvement too. And that’s also good — it’ll continue to push me to grow as a professional.

Is consulting right for everyone? 

Honestly, no, I don’t believe so. Community-building skills and experience are the bare minimum for this career path. You have to be equal parts entrepreneurial, accountable, and organized to achieve success as a community consultant. 

That said, it can be incredibly rewarding and comes with a host of benefits. (How many other career paths give you the freedom to time-block Wordle time with your mom?)

However, growth is all about embracing and celebrating the things that make you uncomfortable. It’s a lesson I’m learning daily, because there are always new challenges and things for me to consider, such as:

  • Is my pricing and packaging strategy for clients correct, and at fair market value for both parties?
  • How do I want to attract my clients? And what type of clients do I want?
  • What do I do about taxes, setting up an entity, etc.?
  • Do I need a website or can my LinkedIn profile be my landing page?

It’s not for everyone. I’m still learning to see if it’s right for me. But it’s an opportunity to grow, and I’m excited to continue on this journey to see how my career evolves. 

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Joel Primack
Jun 14, 2023

Former Social & Community Specialist at Lattice. Host of The Community-Led Growth Show

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