Is Moonlighting Right for a CFO?

Should a CFO be Moonlighting?

Since I have CFO clients who read this blog, I probably need to watch what I write. But I have to be truthful. That’s because my first consulting project occurred while I was holding down a full-time job.

Does that mean I think it’s okay for a CFO to be moonlighting by performing occasional consulting services? Sometimes, under the right circumstances. However, there are pros and cons.

Let’s explore this delicate topic in more detail.

My First Consulting Project

I found my first consulting project as a young 30-something while holding down a full-time position in the early 1990s. I earned around $8,000 from that project which was fun and exhilarating.

Along the way, I never shortchanged my employer as I was still easily working 50-plus hours weekly during my day job. I worked on my client project at night, weekends, and even took a couple PTO days.

Did I ask for permission? No. I just did the project. Should I have asked permission? Yes. Do I have regrets? I’m pleading the fifth.

So this will be a case where I suggest that you don’t do as I did, but what I say instead. More on that later.

The Benefits I Derived from My First Consulting Project

My client needed a $500,000 line of credit. They also needed a new accounting system and help with job costing. I performed all of that work over the course of about 45 days.

While the payday for this project was helpful for a small, growing family, I gained far more than a few extra bucks in the bank.

  • Instinctively, I put together a plan with a beginning, middle, and end which came easily to me. That was a huge confidence builder. Not until 15 years later would I realize that planning and strategy formulation was one of my natural, conative strengths.
  • My communication skills grew as I worked with various types of complicated personalities. I was doing that anyway in my current day job, but as the outsider, I had to adapt quickly to peculiar temperaments who questioned my abilities. Again a huge confidence builder.
  • My technology skills grew as my client was some 400 miles away. I relied on a low-bandwidth modem to access my client’s server. My client and I were the combined tech and enterprise software support team. I also had to learn a new accounting system in a matter of days. I’ll continue to sound like a broken record–my confidence grew.
  • Working alone is not for everyone. Yet, I enjoyed being in control, and I especially appreciated the autonomy of the nature of the work. Little did I know that this would be a required prerequisite for being a full-time consultant.

The benefits were many. However, there were some aspects I never had to figure out (unfortunately). I never got the chance to sell. My client picked me, not the other way around. Marketing and selling take time and much effort to learn and master. I would not start learning those critical skills needed for consulting success until eight years later.

You Are Not Abnormal for Wanting to Moonlight

In a survey published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, 90% of retirees who work for pay said they do so because they “want to stay active and involved”; 82% said they simply enjoy working (Source: WSJ The Retirement Part-Timer: Where to Start).

While this article is geared for seniors in the final seasons of their lives, the message holds true for CFOs interested in moonlighting. That’s because you want:

  • new challenges,
  • satisfaction for work well done, and
  • breaking up the monotony or routine

Scan the list above one more time. Moonlighting is not about the money. If money is an issue for you right now, your CEO should be questioning why you’re even a CFO.

Instead, moonlighting is about striving and growing in business excellence. It’s a booster to being exposed to new challenges, new problems, and new concepts in a short, sprint-like time period.

Let Work Find You Instead of Looking for Work

If you are sold on moonlighting, where does one begin? Consider pulling a page from my playbook. Let the work find you.

If you start looking for consulting gigs, then I’m going to start questioning the dedication to your current position. If you truly want new challenges, then maybe it’s best to leave your work and go into consulting full-time. If not, a project will ultimately find you.

I’m not sure when, but you’ll ultimately get the opportunity to serve a business outside of the one you are working for full-time. It might be a friend who owns a business with cash flow issues. Perhaps it’s another CEO that you golf with periodically who is stuck on a couple problems. A small project could start resulting from a quick question from a fellow board member of a non-profit who is a CEO.

When this happens, it will be easier to sell this opportunity to your boss, the CEO. I could be wrong, but I perceive that your CEO will be more prone to allowing you to do this project if you explain the work came to you. If you go looking for it, they might question your loyalty to the job.

What Happens When Another Business Wants Your Help?

I’m not sure when, but you will be asked for help by a struggling business. When that happens, talk to your CEO about this opportunity. You should be okay if the following are true:

  • the consulting project isn’t a time hog,
  • the project does not lead to jealousy by other team members (if they find out),
  • and you do the work on your own time

I’d even explain to the CEO how you’d approach the problem. Furthermore, ask the CEO for advice from time to time on this project. That also keeps him/her in the loop.

What if a Moonlighting Project Never Finds You

If you are aching to do a third-party project because you have some downtime in your current position, consider finding a non-profit you can help.

Several years ago, a friend recommended that I provide some help to our local Ronald McDonald House. At the time, I was already working full-time as a consultant.

I agreed to the work because of their humility (willingness to learn) and personalities (they were great to work with). I loved that 5-month project because everything I recommended, they implemented. They over exceeded my expectations.

I also learned about the challenges most non-profits deal with–lack of money, lack of direction for non-mission-oriented activities, lack of qualified personnel, and lack of time to tackle new projects.

If you want your A-Game to be challenged, find a humble and hungry non-profit that will implement your solutions.

To My Clients–The Advice I’ve Already Given to Your CFOs

I need to be transparent. Since my clients read this blog, I need to let them know how I’ve addressed this with their CFOs.

On more than one occasion, a CFO of a client has recommended a business owner to me. After I ask questions and explain what my first steps would be, I then ask, “Why don’t you help them instead? They already know you and trust you.” In every case, I recommend they share the idea with their CEO. That’s my M.O. and I’m sticking to it.

Title Photo by Erik Witsoe

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