Maybe it was at the end of a tough week of office politics, or maybe it was in the middle of a grueling board meeting, or perhaps it was just after a business head changed the specs on a major new build, but at some point in your career as CIO, you must have thought to yourself, \u201cMaybe it\u2019s time I go into consulting.\u201d It is true that as clients, we often see consultants as a necessary evil. But from time to time, we have all imagined that life on the other side must be sweet. No politics, no tedium, no staff evaluations, and loads and loads of billable hours. While none of the four CIOs-turned-consultants whom I spoke to for this column would describe their careers in such idealistic terms, they do acknowledge that they have reaped benefits from their career move. With their experiences as a guide, here are three different models for pursuing the consulting track, complete with solid advice and lessons learned. \n\n1. Buy a FirmMonths before Geoffrey Hayden formally vacated his post as CIO of Jacuzzi Brands, he knew he wanted his next role to be in consulting. So, in August 2005, he purchased Bracken Consulting, a local firm that provided IT services to hospitality companies, and had room to grow. By the time he left Jacuzzi in March 2006, he had changed the name of the firm to Acxential Business Solutions, assumed the position of president and built a business plan to double revenues within 12 months. Geoffrey Hayden\u2019s Advice Buy, don\u2019t build. Hayden had recently moved his family to Texas and had neither a great local Rolodex nor the flexibility to relocate. \u201cIf you don\u2019t have enough strong contacts to create a customer base,\u201d he says, \u201cbuy an established firm rather than starting your own.\u201d \n\n\n\nNetwork while you\u2019re still CIO. As CIO, you are privy to all sorts of networking venues that will close their doors to you once you\u2019ve crossed over to the dark side, so capitalize on them now. \u201cStart building up your networks before you need them,\u201d says Hayden. \u201cJoin regional CIO associations and business networking groups, and learn who does what in your community before you set up shop.\u201d\n\n2. Join a FirmIn April 2004, after four years as CIO of Equity Office Properties, a Fortune 500 real estate company, Scott Morey decided that he needed a change. His turnaround effort was complete and maintenance mode was not providing a challenge, so he considered his options. He asked himself, \u201cWhat am I? A technology person or a real estate person?\u201d Real estate won out, so he took a managing director position at RealFoundations, a management consulting firm of 120 people that focuses on real estate and property company operations. \u201cI looked at the traditional firms like Cap Gemini and Ernst & Young (where I had worked before), but I felt that at the large firms, I would be more narrowly focused than I wanted,\u201d Morey says. \u201cThe smaller boutique firm gives me the flexibility to start new service lines, the opportunity to re-brand myself as an operations person, and a tremendous diversity of experiences and learning.\u201d \n\nScott Morey\u2019s AdviceDo a gut check. Morey suggests you ask yourself a few questions before taking on a consulting role: Are you prepared to travel? Morey estimates his travel at 50 percent to 60 percent. Are you prepared to continually re-create yourself? Are you willing to live with the uncertainty of not knowing what you\u2019re going to do in six months? Do you have the right skills? (Morey lists project management, interpersonal skills and the ability to sell yourself as the top three.) Can you handle rejection?Learn to listen. CIOs are paid to develop a plan and direct their staff to execute; that\u2019s a different role from the consultant\u2019s. \u201cCIOs who fail in the conversion into consulting haven\u2019t modified their approach,\u201d says Morey. \u201cThey fail to recognize that they\u2019re not a leader, but an adviser and a coach. Listening is as important to selling your consulting services as it is to being successful once you\u2019re engaged in the work.\u201d Draw from multi-company experience. \u201cClients are looking for consultants with experience in multiple companies,\u201d says Morey. \u201cIf you rely solely on your last experience as CIO\u2014even if that company was a market leader\u2014you risk alienating your client. If you come in and say, \u2018I come from the best and we can fix it for you,\u2019 you will both turn off your client and appear too narrow in your expertise.\u201d\n\n3. Become an Independent ConsultantWhen Pat Wallington left her job as CIO for Xerox Corp., she founded CIO Associates, a technology strategy consulting firm. Similarly, when Tracy Austin left her position as CIO of Mandalay Resort Group, a $2.7 billion gaming and hotel company, she decided to go into consulting. While both Wallington and Austin employ external resources as they need them, they each operate as independent consultants, responsible for their own business development and project execution. \n\nPat Wallington\u2019s AdviceBe focused, but not too focused. \u201cOne of my clients had some troubled projects, so project management was what I offered them,\u201d says Wallington. \u201cBut eventually, they asked me to do some leadership coaching. That service has become a core of my business.\u201d If you plan to do only what you were hired to do, you may miss out on new ways to evolve your business. Don\u2019t be a one-client act. Once you\u2019ve started to do good work for a client in need, that client may present you with an endless array of projects\u2014enough to last you for a year. \u201cThat\u2019s a trap,\u201d warns Wallington. \u201cDon\u2019t be so consumed by one company that your future becomes dependent on it while in the meantime, your other contacts have gone cold.\u201d Regardless of the revenue opportunities that one client may provide, keep your pipeline filled with new opportunities. \n\nTracy Austin\u2019s AdvicePrepare for a more isolated environment. \u201cWhen I started consulting, I was surprised by how much I missed developing and mentoring people,\u201d says Austin. \u201cBefore you go out on your own, make sure you\u2019re comfortable giving up in-house staff, administrative support, colleagues and mentors.\u201d To mitigate the change, Austin suggests hiring a coach and inviting mentors to join an advisory board for your nascent firm. Develop a business plan. Regardless of how quickly the business is coming in, \u201cyou need to have a business plan with clear goals,\u201d says Austin. \u201cI had my coach work with me to establish those goals and to help keep me on point. Without that, I would just go to work and keep on working.\u201d As the debate rages on about how much consulting is the right amount to have on your resume, chances are you will make the leap at one point in your career. For those of you who have walked on the dark side, what words of wisdom can you offer?Martha Heller is the managing director of the IT Leadership Practice at the Z Resource Group, an executive recruiting firm based in Boston. She can be reached at 508-366-5800 x222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.