For independently minded entrepreneurs, consulting can be a lucrative career limited only by ambition and skill. Typically, consultants are hired by companies to advise them on any number of issues such as finances, advertising or communications, and technological improvements have made it easier than ever before for clients and consultants to share ideas. Rather than placing your future in the hands of a single company, a consulting business allows you to take control, work with whomever you choose and decide your own rates and terms.
On the other hand, consulting also requires motivation and an outgoing personality, as well as the ability to work without the structure of a fixed employer. Starting a consulting career takes little more than a computer and some expertise, but turning that business into a success demands dedication and tenacity. These are the six basic steps to creating a consulting service that will withstand the test of time.
Should You Become a Consultant?
Before starting any new endeavor, it is important to ask yourself whether or not you are suited for the career in question. Consultants must be able to manage their time effectively, network with other professionals and have enough resources to devote themselves to a fledgling business. They rarely have the luxury of being handed work and must actively pursue new leads or face dry spells with little or no income. It also helps to be an expert in a field; no one wants to hire a consultant who makes problems worse or accomplishes nothing at all.
Find a Market
The best pumpkin-growing consultant around is still going to have trouble keeping his business afloat; the market simply is not there to support a full-time career. Prospective consultants must appraise the demand for services in their area and decide if it is enough to offset the risk inherent in striking out on their own. Create a profile of your ideal client. Is it a large business or small? What can it gain by working with you? Search local directories to begin creating a list of potential clients to approach once you are operational.
If you have decided that you can make it as a consultant, look into others in your industry to learn the practices and fees of established firms. Ensure that you are familiar with all of the latest trends and tools, and check local regulations regarding certifications. It may prove beneficial to acquire certifications for display, whether or not they are mandated by law.
Most consultants start out working alone or with a partner. This reduces initial investments, but it will eventually prove beneficial to move into a management position while delegating mundane tasks to employees. Employees, however, expect salaries and may not be feasible during your first few years. Similarly, a professional serviced office is expensive but also more impressive and organized than an office based from home. Unless you have the resources, it is better to begin small and develop long-term plans for later success.
Set Rates and Services
Determining how much to charge for a service can be intimidating for many new entrepreneurs. Balancing between losing money and losing clients is always precarious at best, and this is where your earlier research will pay off. Your goal is to manage expenses to remain competitive with other local consultants. If you cannot charge less, you must be able to offer more to win over businesses. Consultants usually work at an hourly rate or set estimates for whole projects. Some are kept on retainer by companies for a monthly salary, but this often comes with restrictions on other clients.
Finally, when your consulting business is functional and ready to begin work, you must begin the constant task of finding and wooing clients. Advertisements, brochures and direct contact are some of the more effective methods to spread the word about your new business. With any luck, you will soon have your first customers. Be prompt, polite and always go the extra mile. A positive reputation is critical for sustained client turnover and will decide whether or not your consulting becomes a failed experiment or a thriving career.
Understanding your own talents and knowledge, whilst possessing the charisma and interpersonal skills to impart that knowledge is crucial to being a consultant. It’s worth remembering, however, that you’re only as good as the work you’ve done. As a consultant, your reputation is the greatest asset you have when discovering, approaching, and dealing with businesses.