The Accidental Consultant

For a time during the recession of the early 2000’s, I stopped referring to myself as a consultant. It seemed that every time I did, it was as if I had a huge blinking neon light on my forehead that proclaimed, “Looking for a Job! Looking for a Job!” My clients and potential clients were inundated with consultants who, when push came to shove, were really looking for a job.

I have noticed that during this past recession, there has been a similar phenomenon; many out of work people are hanging up their shingles as consultants. Some do it out of necessity, months and years without a job can push some people to strike out in new directions. A downturn in the economy is often the time when many new businesses are started. On the other hand, there are those that immediately upon losing a job, announce their new consulting practice.

Having spent a large amount of my life as a consultant, I would like to offer some information that may be helpful to those who are moving down the consulting path. I would also like to invite any readers that are experienced consultants (or not!) to chime in. I am also going to presume in this posting that we are talking about someone pondering becoming an independent consultant, not joining a consulting firm.

One thing to consider when thinking about entering the field as an independent consultant is what value proposition you bring to potential clients. It is very easy to paint the consulting image with broad strokes, doing most things for most people. The new consultant must be pretty specific about what services he or she offers, and how those services will benefit potential clients. Finding a trusted colleague to work through this at the start is a good way to go.

Secondly, there is the question of finances. True, the barriers to entry and exit for consulting are low, but are you in a position to go 18 to 24 months without a first contract? If the answer is no, then you may want to continue looking for a job! Even if you are fortunate to find a contract quickly, you must think ahead to where your next contract may come from. It takes some ingenuity to work for one client and keep on prospecting for others at the same time.

Finally, take some time to think out what legal entity you wish to use for your consulting business. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the legal entities that you might go with, and it is wise to consult with a legal advisor before finalizing your consulting business’ legal form.

For those who have the enthusiasm, patience and will, consulting can be a rewarding career, even if you fall into it by accident!

3 thoughts on “The Accidental Consultant

  1. Kevin, great topic…

    My start in consulting can also be considered “accidental,” but for a different reason. While employed as a project manager for a technology firm, I began publishing articles in the local newspaper on a regular basis – articles about sales, marketing and customer service.

    One day, the phone rang. A sales manager was calling on behalf of his CEO, to ask me come in and speak to their organization.

    “What are your fees?” he asked.

    I wrote down his name and email address, and said that I’d send him a proposal within 24 hours.

    So began my consulting career. That was less than three years ago, and each day continues to be a learning experience.

    The greatest challenge I’ve encountered is finding new prospects. Marketing must be constant if you’re going to grow a self-sustaining practice. There are plenty of effective marketing strategies, but I’ll leave those to you to enumerate in your next post! 😉

    The other big challenge is the first on your list – figuring out “what’s my value proposition?”
    “How can I use my expertise to generate value for an organization, more effectively, and at a lower cost, than they can do for themselves?”
    “What kinds of organizations can most benefit from my expertise?”

    Once I answer those questions, I can do a better job of focusing my marketing activities.

    And by the way, I find that every new project is a learning experience, and cause to re-ask those questions, and further refine my value proposition.

  2. Jim,

    Thanks for those comments. I agree with continuing to re-ask questios and refine your offering. What I am doing now has greatly evloved since I first began consulting back tin the 90’s. Many of the experiences along the way inform what I do today.

    Kevin

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