April 19, 2024

Advancing Business Journey

Empowering Business Excellence

One Management Consultants Advice For Would-Be Consultants

5 min read

As an independent management consultant, I am frequently asked for advice on getting into consulting. It happened a lot this past weekend when I gave a TEDx Talk at a university. Grad students and professors alike had the same question.

Of course I couldn’t tell them much at a busy event, so I thought I would share my thoughts here for you and them.

A dose of reality

I think the most important response involves shedding a little light on the reality of consulting. The life of an independent consultant (a solopreneur) does not consist solely of dispensing your wisdom, facilitating fascinating decisions—strategic or otherwise, teaching your favorite skills, investigating the cause of problems, leading teams to greater productivity or effectiveness, or whatever else you might imagine. In fact, those activities will consume less than half your time, far less in the beginning.

Even after you are well established, even if you outsource as much as you can, that work you dream about won’t be your full time job. You will always be:

  • Talking to clients and prospective clients, often in person, to understand how they are doing and the challenges they are facing.
  • Writing proposals.
  • Building your credibility, visibility, and your competitive edge, which likely means speaking, writing, publishing, podcasting, networking, posting on social media, sending out a regular newsletter, and more.
  • Pursuing your own professional development.
  • Developing your own techniques, ideas, and intellectual property.
  • Asking for testimonials and referrals.
  • Seeking new prospects and following up with referrals.
  • Building relationships and especially the trust essential to winning clients.
  • Invoicing and collecting fees.
  • Traveling to meet prospects, help clients, attend conferences, and wherever else you need to be, which can consume a lot of time.

You really can’t outsource any of those tasks, not completely anyway. And you might not have the money to outsource them when you are first getting started.

In the beginning, you must also:

  • Figure out what value you are best able to provide and who is going to be willing and able to pay reasonable fees for that value.
  • Build your brand and credibility in concert with determining how to reach your ideal clients.
  • Choose a company name and establish the appropriate legal entity.
  • Create an online presence. You will likely need a good headshot, a website (depends on your target market), and a professional email address.
  • Determine what to charge, how to write proposals, how to invoice, how to keep your books, whether you need licenses or insurance. Lordy! It’s been so long since I got started that I’m sure I’m omitting lots of details. The point is that you will need tools and systems to manage the basics of a business.

Cutting to the chase

Am I dissuading you?

Let me just put if this way, if this all sounds boring, tedious, and painful, find a job. It’s a lot easier and the paycheck will be more reliable.

Or, let me put it another way: if you don’t like networking, making phone calls, being persistent, sales, marketing, and acting boldly, get a job. You will be much happier.

But if you are dying to run your own business, enjoy networking, can toot your own horn when needed, believe you have significant value to share, are bold, and don’t need a regular paycheck too desperately, especially in the beginning, go for it!

Lessons I learned

If you haven’t given up by now, here are a few tips I learned by doing:

  • If publishing your first article is too scary because you aren’t sure your article is good enough, just do it! The more articles you publish, the less it matters if one isn’t that great.
  • If public speaking intimidates you, join Toastmasters and just start speaking! Speaking to large groups is one of the most efficient ways to get in front of a lot of people, share your ideas, and give people a sense of who you are. I don’t know of any successful consultants who haven’t become at least proficient and quite comfortable on a stage.
  • If you are uncomfortable blowing your own horn—and I don’t mean raving endlessly about yourself, just being able to state factually your capabilities—get others to do it for you. Collect testimonials from every client and every audience and share them.
  • Don’t undercharge. It sends a poor message about your value. Ask questions to figure out the potential impact of your work and charge accordingly.
  • If you have a tendency to stay in your comfort zone, stop it! Get out! Way out! What’s the worse that can happen? Discomfort makes you grow.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Find your own style and pace.
  • Don’t pay too much attention to your highs or your lows. Concentrate on maintaining a steady uphill track as you build your capabilities, experiences, and clients. The alternative is an exhausting roller coaster of emotions.

Before I left my corporate job to start my own business, I asked my boss, boss’ boss, former bosses, colleagues, and direct reports, “What is it I do exceptionally well that is most unusual?” I got wonderful, thoughtful answers that gave me my brand, my value proposition, and my company name: Uncommon Clarity. If you are your brand, the road to credibility, trust, and success is a lot simpler! Try using that question and see what you can learn.

Now if you are ready to take the plunge, I recommend reading Alan Weiss’ book Getting Started in Consulting. It’s a well-organized guide to getting started. I read it before I quit my corporate job and it terrified me. But then I read it again and realized if I pursued each step one at a time, I could do it all. And I did!

Good luck! I wish you the best!

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