Four questions new consultants ask

Being a consultant is one option that many people consider when going through job changes. They reason, if I can’t find a job, I might as well get some pick up work until the right job comes along.

It is usually about this time that someone wants to sit down and find out more before they jump into the cesspool.

The questions are almost always the same – here are a couple of them. Hopefully, you can benefit from them and add your own 2 cents.

Where do you get clients? This is the million dollar question. Your clients will come from several sources:

  1. Personal networking
  2. Referrals
  3. Website
  4. Blogging
  5. Advertising
  6. Speaking engagements
  7. Publishing a book
  8. Publishing articles in trade journals or other print media
  9. Social networking

When you start out, pick 2-3 initiatives that you believe you can do well and follow through to completion or for at for the next year to see the results. Most of these strategies accomplish similar things – increasing visibility, building credibility, building relationships and expanding your audience reach.

Don’t get discouraged if you fail to see results immediately. Think of it as leaving a bread crumb trail that follows back to one place – you.

If you try to do them all at once, you will either give up too early, fail or do them poorly.

Ten years ago, my initial thrust was networking and speaking engagements. My strategy was to cover a three state networking circuit before taking on any projects. During my networking sweep I was offered my first consulting gig.

A critical piece of feedback from my network was to get a website in place. They were very clear – websites effectively replace the paper marketing materials and becomes your virtual calling card.

The advice was dead on – a client found me on my website because I was an HBDI practitioner and they needed someone in a pinch and they became a repeat client.

Depending on your business focus, you may find it essential to network beyond your first level connections. Hopefully you have a good starting base in your personal network, if you have less than 300 people, start building it here.

There has been substantially more business from second and third level connections, casual acquaintances or strangers. Inherently, I think people want to separate business and personal relationships unless you are in an embedded community.

What do I charge? It depends on a number of factors:

  1. your skill set
  2. how much you want to work
  3. who your clients are
  4. where your clients are

If your work is local and with small businesses, what you can charge will depend on how saturated your competitive market is for your services. If you have unique skills or capabilities, you will be able to demand a higher fee structure.

It can be difficult to ascertain your own worth without doing some research. Inquire what others are charging. Some may share it, some will not.

One of the best sources for figuring out what to charge is in Alan Weiss’s book, Million Dollar Consulting or any of his follow up books such as Value-Based Fees: How to Charge – and Get – What You’re Worth.

Can I make a living? Being successful will take time. Unless you are walking out of your company with a consulting contract, you can expect to fund your business rather than take profits for the first year.

While you may have been successful in the corporate world, the reality is you are likely to start all over again. People associate you with the company you were with and in the job you were doing for them. Now you are a solo practitioner without a support system and they want to see if you can do it.

Clients can be risk adverse. They would rather choose a proven entity rather than take a chance on you. One fear is that you might continue to search for full-time employment and leave them in a lurch in the middle of a project.

Yes, it is a catch-22. You have to work to prove you can be reliable and do the work.

Hopefully, there is someone in your network that will believe in you and give you your first consulting assignment.

If not, the option is to do pro-bono work in exchange for some recommendations…and that’s why you have to be able to carry your personal finances for at least a year. It is important to get some kind of benefit out of the work you do for free to help you get established.

Can we partner together? This is a question that comes up a lot in discussions between consultants, and is not limited to new ones. What the other person is usually saying is one or more of the following:

  1. I don’t have a client
  2. I want to do the work
  3. Sales and marketing scares me

Running a business requires wearing a lot of hats. There is no corporate structure to tap into do the marketing, sales, accounting and delivery of services.

Outsourcing accounting is an obvious decision that often makes sense financially. As you evaluate who should do the sales and marketing, the decision to let someone else do it for you can cut deeply into your profitability.

If you are in business for the long run, it is best to learn how to do it. You can either elect the trial by fire method and business ramps up more slowly or invest in training or coaching on how to do it. Be selective about who you choose because there are many selling styles and approaches.

One way to handle this statement is to let the other person know that when they have a client and need some help – that’s a good time to call you; otherwise most of this is just smoke and mirrors. I have lost count the number of people who leave an introduction with that suggestion and you never hear from them.

If you are a consultant, let us know your thoughts on the above questions. If you are starting out and have a question to ask, leave it in the comment area. I’ll be addressing some other questions in a follow up post.

Author: Lynn Dessert

Lynn Dessert is a certified ICF and NLP Coach specializing in Executive Career coaching in Charlotte NC. She works with individuals to accelerate their career advancement and organizations to fast track leadership skill development. Her career eBooks What To Do After Being Fired and The Secrets to Successful Job On-Boarding give you a roadmap to DIY. Start your discovery process by contacting her at 704.412.2852 today.

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