Consulting as a Path to Financial Independence – Part II…

In my last post, I discussed how consulting eventually led me to Financial Independence. The primary focus was prior to making my JumpToConsulting. In this post, I’ll elaborate on things done at and after my break for freedom.

First, I put away a startup stash. This is key, as there is nothing worse than having to give up too soon because you’ve run out of money. In my case, I had enough for six months with no revenue, or a year with half revenue.

Although I was pretty sure I’d make it this time (after a false start a few years earlier), a safety net still made sense. That also made Mrs. JTC more comfortable, although she was behind me right from the start. Plus as an engineer, it is always good to have a Plan B.

As it turned out, we never really needed to dig into the startup stash. Thanks to all the plans and a couple of startup contracts, we ran in the black right from the start. And although I stepped out first, my business partner was able to join me in a few months.

Next, we watched our income/outgo like a couple of hawks. No fancy offices – we both used spare bedrooms in our homes. No fancy cars either. Neither were really necessary, as most of our business was on-site, and often out of town.

Each month we would review both our bookings and our billings. The latter is really important for cash flow. Unfortunately, clients often delay paying (particularly their smaller vendors), so you need to stay on top of your the payables.

We did spend money on necessities, such as collateral (business cards, brochures, etc.) but even then we did not overspend. No fancy multicolor brochures — just two colors (blue and gray) on gray stock. We did hire a graphics artist for a logo and typesetting, and it all turned out very professional looking.

After two years, we set up retirement accounts. By that time, we knew we were going to make it, and the income was more predictable. Our accountant suggested Keogh plans, which let us put away up to 25% of our income in tax deferred accounts.

To even out the personal cash flow, we both drew modest salaries – about 80% of our previous corporate salaries. This forced us to be frugal, and helped maintain a cushion in the business account for slow months. It also assured that the Keogh funds would be available at year end.

Any additional profits were distributed as a bonus. Since we were a Subchapter S corporation, these were not “retained earnings” so we paid taxes on the bonus. These funds were put into our regular savings/investments.

At our accountant’s advice, we eventually hired a “fee only” financial advisor. Good thing we did — when the market went sour, he minimized our losses. That lets us focus on making money, while he manages it. Like us, he is a professional who knows his stuff and does his job well. We consider it money well spent.

A word of caution! You need to discuss these issues with financial professionals – your accountant, attorney, and financial advisor (if you have one.) The laws are constantly changing, and unless you are a financial professional yourself, you need their advice. The last thing you need is to tangle with the IRS.

Finally, we didn’t win the lottery — our incomes were comparable with corporate salaries for engineers, plus a reasonable profit for our risk. It was the combination of regular savings in the tax deferred retirement plan plus self-enforced frugality that eventually led to Financial Independence.

You can do it too, and you don’t need to be a consultant. But you do need to exercise some financial discipline and planning. Trust me, it is worth it! Good luck…

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