So You Want To Become a Consultant? Join the Crowd

Having practiced as an independent direct marketing consultant for about 15 years now, I receive a number of requests from employed and unemployed professionals of all sorts if I would share my advice for becoming a successful consultant.

Some want to know if they can make enough money to make it worth their while. Others exude confidence in their professional expertise believing that companies will come knocking at their door for help.

Usually, most people who are used to getting that twice a month check have no clue.

But I understand their desire for independence and breaking the stranglehold their employers have over their lives. Freedom offers an almost irresistible attraction.

To be honest, I have come to believe that the security offered by full time employment is elusive at best.

You have read the headlines. CEO tenures have dropped steadily for years to an average of around than three years and CMOs to an even lower level. Some of my peers and I have lasted for as little as six months or less in organizations that merge, sell themselves to the highest bidder or simply demonstrate little regard for their employees financial or emotional welfare.

Let’s be clear, working for the other guy promises fewer rewards and stability than our parents enjoyed. In the not too distant past, employers respected and appreciated great work. Jobs offered real stability. But no more.

In the process, employers lost seasoned employees and show a willingness to hire expertise on a contract basis.

Hence consulting and other skilled contract labor has grown at a prodigious rate. In one article from Assessment.com, a MAPP publication says this about the growth of independents.

Bill Sweney of Resource Associates Corporation recently stated "...someone who works outside the company would do 50 percent of all jobs performed. In the U.S., this contingent workforce consists of approximately 45 million, which includes, temporaries, self-employed, part-timers, or consultants. This number has grown 57% since 1980."

In my response to an inquiry from my blog, a customer service veteran with 10 years of experience asked for input on her money making potential as an independent consultant. 

Such individuals can earn quite a bit as a consultant. But it's a rough ride finding clients who will hire you for more than just miscellaneous projects. Monthly fee accounts are the way to go, but hard for clients to justify. Getting the work is the hard part.

Here is my answer to her question.

You should address this issue before you leap into the high risk profession of independent consulting.

  1. Why would someone hire me on a part time basis instead of giving the work to an internal employee?

  2. How should I describe my services? Be focused. Customer service is far too broad. What problems do you solve for a client? Give a case study or two of problems you solved and the results of your work.

  3. Learn how to price your services.

  4. Become an expert networker. For example, leverage LinkedIn to the hilt. You will have to sell what you offer. Plan on spending 3 days a month or about a day a week on the phone and in person building networks and meeting with people. Your sales activity never ends.

Enhance your marketing to include a self-modifying website (as opposed to static) and do some decent SEO on it.

Ask for invitations to speak. Consider writing a blog that demonstrates your capabilities and positions you as a master at solving the types of client problems your clients are experiencing.

Expose yourself to potential clients any way you can.

The work is fun, but for most consultants, the marketing is the tough part. It's like trying to get a new job on a continuing basis. So be sure you are ready to put in the effort.

May I ask you, dear reader, what advice you would share with individuals who aspire to become successful consultants?

Posted on April 9, 2011 and filed under Consulting.