Here's how to get started.
1. Make up your mind.
Starting a successful independent consulting business requires total commitment. You must get past the point of deciding whether you are going to be an employee, contractor, or consultant. Sitting on the fence will get you nowhere. Make up your mind to commit to the task 100 percent.
Focus is key. Focus on a particular problem organizations face, an industry sector, and/or geography. This will help you to brand yourself, refine your expertise, and provide more value to clients.
For example, I am currently helping:
- A Human Resource Generalist to focus her consulting work on small, start-up organizations;
- A Communications/Writing Consultant to focus her work on helping labor unions communicate more effectively with their members; and
- A Computer Support System Expert to focus his work on small software companies that are wasting the valuable time of software developers on answering customer questions that could be easily handled by more junior employees.
3. Select a business model.
Decide how you are going to get paid for your services. For example, are you going to charge for your time, for project deliverables, on a retainer basis, or for the value you provide? Are you going to hire employees or subcontractors to do the work and then mark up their time? Are you going to sell products (e.g., training manuals, videos, or subscriptions) and charge more than it took you to create them?
4. Announce your new business to your network.
Your clients during the first few years of your consulting business will undoubtedly be people in your network who already know and respect you or people to whom they refer you. You have to get the word out to them. Put a stake in the ground. Mail or email a formal announcement to everyone you know. It should state your focus and provide your contact information.
5. Get serious about reaching out to your network.
Make a list of the 50 people in your network who know and respect your work. Then, create a spreadsheet with the names of each contact as the rows and the 12 months of the year as the columns. In each cell, insert how you are going to reach out to this person each month, every other month, or each quarter. Entries could include: send them an article I think they would find useful, telephone them to keep in touch, invite them to lunch, send them a copy of my electronic newsletter, etc. Then religiously work the system by following through on these plans.
6. Join a professional association where you can meet prospects.
The best type of professional associations fit the following profile:
- Hold frequent local meetings –
The association meets regularly in your geographic area providing you with an ongoing opportunity to get to know people in your field;
- Meetings are attended by your prospects –
The attendees should be people in your target market who are senior enough to be able to hire you as a consultant;
- Provide opportunities for networking –
The meetings won't be that useful to you if everyone typically just comes in as soon as the meeting starts, sits down, listens to the speaker, and then leaves immediately after the speech. The structure of the meetings should allow you to interact informally with members before, during, and after the meeting.
- Provide opportunities to get involved –
It is better to become actively involved in one professional association then to just attend meetings of several organizations. Ideally, the associations you attend will have committees you can join that will enable you to interact with other members.
7. Get help.
Meet with other consultants to pick their brains about what has worked for them. You will find that they will be more than happy to share their experiences. (It is best to select people who are not your direct competitors.) Also, seek help from consulting mentors and coaches who can help you focus your services, develop a marketing strategy, prepare proposals, and close business.
Don't spin your wheels planning to be consultant. Get out there and do it. If not now, when?
© Copyright Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D., 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
About This Author
Starting a Consulting Business Expert Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. is an Industrial/Organizational psychologist, president of Discovery Surveys, Inc. and Executive Director of The Center for Independent Consulting. He is author of "An Insider's Guide to Building a Successful Consulting Practice" (AMACOM) and "30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers" (AMACOM). Reach out to Dr. Katcher for consulting assistance at BKatcher@CenterforIndependentConsulting.com, 781-784-4367, on LinkedIn at Bruce Katcher PhD, or on Twitter @BruceKatcher.
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