Ever daydreamed of setting your own hours, being your own boss, and earning a good living while still doing what you love? It doesn’t have to be a pipe dream; you can make it happen as a consultant, even after a long tenure as a permanent employee. The key is to develop and execute a clear plan.
There’s a bit of trepidation involved in leaving the comfort of a permanent position within an established organization. But there’s also a certain excitement that comes with pursuing new projects and working with interesting clients, all on your own terms. If you’re considering taking the plunge as a consultant, consider these steps to build your strategy for success.
Pick your niche
Before you pack your bags and leave your permanent job, you must determine what you’ll specialize in as an independent consultant. Your niche is not something that simply piques your curiosity; it’s your specific area of expertise—your forte. You must have the tools, deep knowledge, and proper skillset, coupled with interest in your niche to excel. Are you an IT infrastructure guru? Are you an operations improvement strategist? Are you a branding innovator? Whatever your niche may be, make sure it’s clear and useful.
Define your target market
You can’t be everything to everyone. One of the biggest mistakes businesses make (consulting or otherwise) is failing to define their target market. As a new consultant, you may feel compelled to try and attract all types of clients, just to land a gig; however, if your efforts aren’t focused you’ll most likely spin your wheels with little to no results. It may seem counterintuitive, but selecting and focusing on a target market is critical to landing clients efficiently and effectively. In doing so, you can more accurately tailor your marketing efforts and draw in the right types of clients and avoid overextending yourself. As an HR consultant, perhaps you specialize in nonprofits, for example. Choose your target market, get to know every aspect of it, and focus your business marketing accordingly.
Set the structure
As with any business venture, consulting requires you to think about the nitty-gritty administrative tasks you probably didn’t worry about as a permanent employee. How much will you bill clients? How will you bill clients? How will you manage client data? What tools or equipment do you need to purchase to perform your job? Will you need to outsource certain business tasks like accounting, customer service, or website management? Will you incorporate your business or remain an independent contractor? What hours will you keep? These are the types of questions you’ll need to ask yourself as you strike out on your own as a consultant.
Outline your goals
Understand that building a consulting business can take time, especially if you don’t have a broad professional network or a lot of influence in your industry or field. If you don’t have the time and energy to invest in growing a business from the ground up, consulting may not be the right fit for you. Be realistic as you enter the consulting world and set SMART (Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Relevant – Time-Based) goals. Where do you want your consulting business to be in six months? How about one year? Five years? Once you set your goals, be sure to review your progress periodically and make course corrections in your strategy as needed.
Determine the professional credentials you’ll need
Depending on your niche, you may need additional credentials to practice a particular specialty, if you haven’t already obtained them. As an accounting consultant, you may need a license from an accredited institution to provide services for individuals or businesses. In other cases, pursuing additional licenses and certifications can help build credibility. As an IT consultant, you may find it helpful to pursue high-level credentials like Carnegie Mellon University’s sought-after Federal CIO Certification program.
Grow your network
Much like job searching, your best bet for finding consulting opportunities will likely come about from networking, especially at a high level. Consider joining and becoming a thought leader within relevant associations. Get to know other influencers in your field or industry. Get involved in social media to get your name out there. LinkedIn is fast becoming a leading avenue for building credibility and influence among one’s peers. Companies need to know about you to engage you in a consulting relationship. The broader your network, the greater your opportunity for consulting leads.
Consulting can be a very rewarding and lucrative career, if you’re strategic and laser-focused in your pursuits. Follow these steps, stay patient and enjoy the opportunities to learn, grow, and progress as a professional. Who knows, you might absolutely love it.