On Your Own — Is a Consulting Business for You?

Business consulting is a huge and lucrative field today. Many business owners prefer to “outsource” their training and educational initiatives rather than employ full-time staff to implement such programs, because they are far more cost-effective, and the one-time expense of an outside consultant is a good business decision.

There is also this old adage that “you are never a prophet in your own land.” Bringing someone in from the outside seems more credible to employees and, as well, gives them a chance to present problems and issues that they might be timid about addressing with a company manager or executive.

If you are considering starting a consulting business, understand that there are certainly a number of big advantages — being your own boss, setting our own schedule, having full control over your work responsibilities. There are also distinct disadvantages — start-up funds, cash flow, trying to become experts on all aspects of a business operation. Still, if you are passionate about such an endeavor, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. And to help, here are 5 basic steps you will need to implement.

1. Evaluate your skills and your current situation. What exactly do you have to offer other businesses? Are you an innovative expert on the latest content marketing strategies? Team building? Logistics? Networking and security? You need to begin to think about these things at least a year before you launch your consulting business and do everything you can to remain current in your skill areas. As well, you need to spend that year networking — developing contacts and relationship with potential future clients. Do not quit your day job unless you have deep pockets and can at least sustain yourself or a minimum of 6 months of little-to-no income. Many aspiring consultants begin on a very part-time basis while they are still employed, using vacation days and weekends to launch their start-ups slowly. Such a move will allow you to “test the waters” and to see if you have what it takes.

2. Use Skills and Expertise to Identify Your Specialty: While you may have several potential areas for consulting, it is best to begin with the one specialty about which you have the most passion. Remember, you have to develop proposals and plans to present to potential clients, and trying to do several at once will require more time and energy than you can commit at first. Virtually all experts on how to start a consulting business, including highly successful consultants, give this piece of advice. You can always expand later, once your great reputation has been established.

3. Research all Aspects of Your Niche: Is there a need for your specialty? How much competition do you have? What are the “going rates” in your field? Can you offer different levels? If so, will you charge by the hour, the day, or for an entire package? Will you be able to offer webinars? Your research should allow you to develop a variety of “packages” and pricing structures, and this variety will help you appeal to more clients.

4. Identify Your Primary Target: Are you going after the “big boys,” small-to-moderately sized businesses, non-profits? If you decide to go after a combination, remember your “pitches,” your proposals, and you actual programmatic structures will need to be different for each business type. Again, the best advice is usually to target one audience first, build your reputation, and then expand that base.

5. Develop Your Sales Expertise: There are so many aspects to salesmanship today, and you must study all of them. But here are the bare essentials:

  • Sit down and develop a set of “talking points” about you, your expertise, what you offer that is unique, etc. You need to have these points clear in your head before you talk to anyone
  • Networking is just critical, because it allows the relationship-building you need. Actually, this part of your sales effort should begin a year before your launch. Join business networking groups in your area; join the local Chamber of Commerce; attend conferences, especially those at which you can set up a booth and pass out literature about your offerings. Once relationships have been established, ask for referrals.
  • Develop a proposal template (there a great examples all over the Internet), so that you are ready to go when a potential client is ready to talk. Include your price structure in your proposal, but provide for leeway always. If a potential client is bit budget-strapped, be prepared to consult for less than normal, in order to get the reference down the road.
  • Cold-calling is something you do when you have the time and when you have good leads on targets. Send an introductory letter that will engage the target immediately, and follow up with a phone call. If you are not creative in the area of compelling literature, hire someone who is.

Becoming a successful business consultant is hard work and will consume every waking moment early on, but if you really have the passion for meeting the needs of others, for continual self-development and learning and, of course, for being in charge of our own future, you probably have what it takes.

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