“Consultant” may be the new fashionable, catch-all title for the “Choose Your Own Adventure” humans out there, but it is definitely not all bunnies, rainbows, and open schedules. Sometimes you can’t find the energy to be like this success consultant, depicted on SNL (though I would like my own sound effects person). Sometimes the paychecks aren’t consistent. Sometimes it is a lot more paperwork than it is hands-on work. However, making the change in my career is something I will never regret. It allowed me the unique opportunity to take full control of my future, to carve out my own place in an industry that asks you to claim ownership of where it is going, however you can.
I’ve been in the service industry for a while, as a tea specialist, a barista, a server, a bartender, a bar manager, a restaurant and catering manager, a brand ambassador, and it was only recently that I made an important realization:
Calculating what you are worth is one of the most valuable things you can do.
Bartending, at its core, requires you to be a multi-tasking mastermind, a person with so many skills co-existing to make everything before you happen: good service, good drinks, good atmosphere, a vast amount of knowledge, the desire and ability to learn both new products and new skills, a love for adapting with the greater trends of society. Many of us have skills that existed long before we stepped behind a bar, whether it be organizational, intellectual, business savvy, artistic talents, musical talents. These skills inevitably come into play in everything you do, especially your bartending career.
I, personally, found myself in a series of jobs within this industry where I would be working for an employer that wanted to take advantage of my vast array of skills. Call it a millennial issue (I, unfortunately, do qualify as one of those), call it an American Dream offshoot, but after the 3rd employer wanted to change my pay structure from salary to commission, when I was running a good majority of their sales and accounts within a state, but also doing their graphic design, building them a website, running their social media, planning outreach events, coordinating their charitable efforts, and more…
I said it out loud to my partner one day, amidst these discussions with my employer: “I think that if I worked for myself and was able to charge exactly what I am worth, I could draw the lines, I could feel appreciated, I could make the money that is congruent with the worth of my time.”
This led me to launch my company, Drinkable Genius, in January of 2016.
At first, it seemed like I hit the jackpot: all of a sudden, I was free to go on a random trip to New York City for three days! I could take a day and read a book in a coffee shop! I work for myself, and I answer to no one! Then the legal and financial implications of starting a business and working for myself took shape. I am happy to say that 8 months in, I have made a few discoveries about what it requires to make a consultancy work, and now I can share those with you, even though I have none of these things down to an art.
Tip #1: To work as a consultant, you have to be the rare form of a Type A bartender – No one is making your schedule for you anymore, and so your new best friend is the calendar, and not just the one on your phone: you’ll inevitably buy a paper calendar for your kitchen, an agenda with enough room to take notes in meetings, and you’ll make sure that your phone calendar syncs with EVERYTHING electronic in your life. You’ll have spreadsheets for everything. You’ll be keeping track of every expense, from a day spent in meeting after meeting in a coffee shop, to extra bar tools you will need for a private event. You will have “mental health days” noted on all your calendars to keep yourself sane. You’ll have all of your contacts in your phone re-organized with emails, phone numbers, and the occasional coffee order. You will create to-do lists, and it will require you to get up before 9am to get everything done.
Tip #2: To work as a consultant, you will have to do a complete overhaul of your schedule – All of a sudden, you will go from shifts that start at 3pm, to waking up before 9am to get enough coffee in your system before your scheduled call with a corporate sponsor. Staying in bed and the cat nuzzling the back of your head with a computer on your lap, two notebooks, your agenda, your phone, your iPad, and a bagel hanging out of your mouth while you type is your new idea of sleeping in, and you have a meeting across town in two hours that requires you to wear a tie. You are a healthy sleep schedule’s biggest fan.
Tip #3: To work as a consultant, you will always be branding yourself, even when you are working behind the bar – Your new list when leaving the house is keys, phone, wallet, wine key, and business cards. That beloved question that we get behind the bar of “what else do you do?” now has a very in-depth and important answer, and could result in a recurring client. The great thing about being a consultant is that you can still legally work behind a bar to make extra cash, but that shift may result in a lot more than tips.
Tip #4: To work as a consultant, you will need to learn a lot of legal, business, and other types of jargon – Starting your own business and working for yourself requires you to file taxes way more often, writing contracts to protect yourself and others, working within a lot of unfamiliar industries because of the folks that may hire you to teach an extracurricular cocktail class as “office bonding”, and way more. This may be the most important thing I say because it applies to everyone: even if you can’t afford a lawyer or an accountant, make sure you at least have one of each as a friend that can answer your stupid questions and help you learn how to file quarterly taxes, protect yourself, and write a sturdy contract and make sure you get paid on time.
Tip #5: To work as a consultant, you can never take your freedom for granted – Even when you are up to your eyeballs in work, even when you sign onto gigs that are way more than you thought they would be, never take your freedom to work wherever and do whatever you feel comfortable doing for granted. If you can make everything else work, you can be successful, and you should always be thankful that you built something great. A lot of people don’t get that privilege.
Since my launch, I have used my skill set to run the social media for a conference of bartenders, taught cocktail classes, planned events with large corporate sponsors, helped to start a series of industry nights, judged a cocktail competition, done graphic design for a variety of companies, built partnerships with distributors, created a series of happy hours for a film festival, thrown an adult prom, and was named a Female Bartender You Should Know by Baltimore Magazine. Drinkable Genius has allowed me to do all of the things I want to dabble in, to learn new skills, and still work behind an excellent bar twice a week making drinks and meeting incredible people. Every time that I have doubted myself and freaked out, thinking that I have made a colossal mistake, is eclipsed by the fact that I am living a rare dream, where my time is valuable and appreciated, and that I alone dictate how it is used.
At the end of the day, nothing is easy. Uncertainty is terrifying. Consulting may come easy, but you will always have good days and bad days. You will have a couple weeks where you are just hustling and hemorrhaging money, and then you will have four paid invoices come in the next. The greatest summation of advice I can give is keep going, love what you do, use all of your skills to keep things interesting. Now? I wake up every morning, quoting William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” in my head, and move forward in creating my space in this incredible industry.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.