I entered the world of consulting in 2001 after leaving a small firm that had to downsize because it lost a major client in a poor economy. I wanted to teach leadership development to teens and small businesses and for a year I stumbled about trying to find a way to make a living in a field that I had little to no reputation in. I sent out mailers, made cold calls, went to Chamber of Commerce meetings and grew frustrated at my lack of success.
Being a careful planner, I had a good idea what our finances looked like and after 9 months knew I had to change something soon or face the dismal prospect of running out of money. While I had a dream, I had to temper that dream with reality. To make ends meet, I called a few consulting firms and they were able to subcontract me out as a project manager and over the years this has been my bread and butter while I continue working on my dream.
There are several observations that I want to pass on to you in your quest to achieve your dream as a consultant.
- Unless you have a well established network of potential clients, don’t quit your day job!
- In addition to a dream, you also need credibility in your field. How credible are you? If you need some certification, work on your certification while you still have a stream of income.
- To build a successful consulting business, you MUST be able to market and sell. While you may be the best at what you do, your business won’t be successful unless you can attract people to your services and get them to pay for it.
- Brand Yourself. Know what you have to offer and focus in on it. There are differing opinions about this. Some “gurus” will say to focus on a specific niche, others will tell you to diversify. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Pick a niche, but have a few ways of servicing that niche.
- Treat your business, like a business. You’ll have to invest time AND money to make it work. If you don’t have either of these, your chances of success go down.
- Develop a strategic plan. What is your target market? Where will you find them? How will you reach them? Can the demographics in your area support your business? Will you have to travel?
- How are you going to charge for your services? What services are you going to give pro bono? Will people be willing to pay for your services? How much will they pay?
- Plan for at LEAST three years of little to no income from your business.
- Believe that you can succeed, but plan… plan…. plan. Successful businesses don’t just happen.
- Be careful where you invest your money. There are a ton of people/businesses that will take your money in an attempt to get you started. Marketing, Sales, Graphic Designers, Website Developers, Social Media Consultants, Office Supplier, Videographers, Ghost Writers. Many are well intentioned, but… their services alone won’t help you succeed if you are using the shot gun approach. KNOW what you need to do, then focus on it.
My best advice for anyone entering consulting, is to really take the time to consider all aspects of performing this kind of work. Not everyone is cut out for it. It has its plusses and minuses, just like everything else. For those of you who are going to “try” consulting because you were laid off, don’t stop looking for work. You are going to need a source of income to supplement your consulting for a few years. Be realistic. Don’t give up hope. Don’t stop dreaming. Don’t stop moving ahead. But… plan your work, then work your plan.
All the best…
Lead With Honor,
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