Whistle while you work—oh, those wonderful little dwarfs, so happy to be part of Snow White’s crew. That’s what you envision, isn’t it, now that you’ve traded in your freelancer or consultant title for a full-time spot and health benefits at a corporate office? Working for a benevolent boss and being part of a team that truly is “one for all?”
But what if you’re trying to whistle a happy tune, and it turns out you’re the “I” working for the king, and there’s no team in sight? Take it from me—it happens. And while there are plenty of perks that come with a proper 9-to-5, it’s also a big transition, with plenty of unexpected twists and turns along the way.
If you’re moving from freelance to a full-time gig, here are seven steps to help you succeed, regardless of your new workplace reality.
1. Use Your Inside Voice
Consultants come with a certain amount of credible cache (whether or not it’s deserved). As a consultant, your opinion—even if it’s the same thing that internal staffers have been saying forever—carries a lot of weight.
When becoming a full-time employee, however, you may find that your one-time authoritative voice has lessened in its ability to be heard. For example, say you’re in a meeting and the topic is something you have successfully managed for several other companies in your pre-full-time employee life. Guess what? You no longer have the floor. Instead, you’re sitting with your colleagues while some other outside consultant is mapping out his plan for what you should do.
While you might think it wise to raise your voice and demand action of the people who now are your co-workers, avoid that impulse. That approach won’t get you far now. Watch and learn how others around you bring their ideas to the table or suggest changes to the higher-ups, and try that, instead.
2. Embrace “Other Duties as Assigned”
Freelancers charge either by project or by the hour. And contracts are drawn up to outline details and specific deliverables.
Full-timers can forget about all that and must get comfortable with ambiguity and switching gears. One day, you might be handed a corporate initiative that’s hot and due yesterday. So you stay until the work is done, and you’re ready that very next morning to deliver. But when the morning comes, you learn that what was so hot just hours before no longer seems important to higher-ups. Instead, you’re being asked about your daily “business as usual” tasks—the ones you couldn’t get to because you were working on that priority that now no longer is.
Truthfully, it’s a bit of a juggling act, and sometimes, you and your consultant brain may not agree with what is or isn’t a priority. Doesn’t really matter. Learning to go with the flow, even if that flow seems like chaos, is the best way to navigate the waters.
3. Soar Like an Eagle, Despite a Team of Turkeys
As a consultant, you pretty much consult. You’re brought in to solve a problem. You offer up solutions. But more often than not, the execution of your solutions rests with the company and its internal teams.
As a full-timer, you’re now part of the team responsible to get it done. And that’s where success sometimes gets thwarted. Because, to put it nicely, even Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs had to deal with teammates who were turkeys (Grumpy and Sleepy, to name two).
The key is to keep focused on the goal, realize your colleagues’ strengths and weaknesses, and work together to bring out each individual’s best. True, this may mean that you’re going to have to carry some of someone else’s workload sometimes, but it’s all part of being a team player. And maybe one day, when you need that helping hand, someone on your team might end up carrying you.
4. It’s a Job, Not a Prison Sentence
Perhaps the one loss that’s most difficult to deal with when transitioning from freelance to full-time is the fact that your time no longer is your own. You now “work for the man,” and that can mean long hours, little recognition, and less-than-flexible scheduling. Because you’re not on the clock contractually, your employer will most likely push to get as much out of you as possible.
You can choose to lament this loss of freedom—or to give thanks for the full-time gig. But more importantly, remember: Your employer isn’t your warden, and it’s up to you to set reasonable and mutually beneficial boundaries. Give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Never forget your worth, and they won’t either.
5. Drink More Water
Consultants watch the clock, as a matter of necessity due to accurate and ethical billing. We’re expected to do the job, not buddy up with the staff. But guess what? As a full-timer, you are expected and encouraged to become a part of the corporate family.
So, never miss a deliverable’s deadline, yes, but also never miss an opportunity to socialize with colleagues. In other words, it’s okay to spend time hanging around that water cooler. When inside corporate walls, you may be surprised how much more relationships matter when trying to get things done. The time you spend goofing around with others (for lack of a better term) may just end up expediting projects and exceeding expectations.
6. Be a King-Maker
Your job as a consultant was to deliver solutions to any challenge a company presented you. Success meant that you were crowned and bowed down to. You were the king of your own company castle, and the spotlight was shined upon you.
But now, your job is to support some other king in some other castle. “When I sit, you sit. When I kneel, you kneel. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.” Yul Brenner wasn’t the only chief executive to assume such power. Hopefully, the king you were hired to promote isn’t the “all about me” kind, but even if he (or she) is, your job now is to shine the light on him and whatever he deems important. If you’ve chosen this company and this person to follow into full-time employment, chances are you’ll be on the same page with your king and be only too happy to promote him. If, by some chance, that’s not the case, think of this as an opportunity to exercise your creativity. Everyone has some king-worthy quality, so find it, and, perhaps, work your own magic to help your king see why this particular worthy quality matters and why he or she should exercise it as well.
7. Stay True to You
Just because you shifted from being your own boss to having one doesn’t mean you suddenly must become one of the Despicable Me minions. Remember that you were hired full-time because what you brought to the table as a consultant resonated with your new employer, and, going beyond that, you were thought to be a right-enough-fit to be brought in-house as part of the corporate family.
So, don’t discount who you are just because of who you’ve now become. You’re still the same you. Give your best to the people who sign your weekly paycheck, but stay true to you and give back to yourself. Use your entrepreneurial spirit on the weekends, at home, on your own hobbies and pet projects. Retaining a healthy balance is vital to sustaining your success and happiness, regardless of what you do for a living and for whom you do it.