Breaking Into a Career as a Consultant

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It can be difficult to break into the consulting industry, where one is required to parlay their own qualifications and experience into job opportunities.

ConsultingCrossing spoke with several experienced consultants who described the process of breaking into consulting and advice for those planning to do so.

  1. Work the network. Expanding a network of referrers is critical to insuring a steady stream of clients and contracts. Don't just work on the network when you are not buy as that will result in a cycle of feast and famine.

  2. Position your practice. Consultants need to very specifically define what their value proposition is and communicate how they can provide a differentiated level of expertise and service than internal staff of other consultants.

  3. Listen intently. Experienced consultants can offer the benefit of years or decades more experience than prospective clients. Allowing the client to frame the problem or issue and asking questions that demonstrate a consultant's insight creates confidence that the consultant is the solution to the client's problem.

  4. Keep your skills current. Attending conferences, trade shows and seminars not only provides continuing education but can also be a rich source of leads.

  5. Frame the scope of the engagement. Don't overpromise or try to boil the ocean. Breaking the project into phases enables the client to reduce the commitment risk upfront. Sick finds that starting with a small focused project enables him to build trust with the client and identify other opportunities. Sick has been working with a number of clients for 5-8 years that initially started as a short term project.

Michael Sick offers an outsourced CMO service in which he provides part-time virtual services for clients on an ongoing basis. Working out of a home office in San Diego, CA, Sick works with clients nationally and internationally in a variety of industries from pet products to restaurants to eldercare and technology.

The best way for someone to become a consultant in the IT space is to specialize in a very high demand, niche, market. The more specialized you are, the more desired you will become to potential employers, because you are a specialized talent that is set up to perform project-based work. What's good about consultant work is that it generally pays more. The hourly rates are higher for consultants than they are for fulltime personnel. Someone who enjoys working on a multitude of different projects is usually a good fit for doing consultant work.

You also, when interested in becoming a consultant, should gain an affiliation with a consulting firm that has longstanding relationships with several different clients that are, or will be, in the market for your services. That way, you always have someone working on your behalf to get you placed into a series of different assignments. That way, you are never out of work for an extended period of time.

Joseph Biggs
Eliassen Group Team Lead Recruiter - IT

I advocate completely the ability, especially in this economy, for people who have excellent skills and knowledge to branch into consultancy. I have been teaching people about the value of this for close to a decade, to great success.

In addition to having two consultancy businesses of my own which have helped over 1000 business owners to make the shift and to become more successful in establishing themselves as well-known experts in a way that it will help earn more by being specific, I am somewhat of a poster child for the values that take place when you move into consulting.

The truth is, most people who are experiencing and have years of experience in working in a business have the modicum of what it takes to be a successful consultant. All that is required is learning how to put that into a framework that becomes their methodology that is unique to the world. The biggest problem people have when they try to go into consulting is they are often been doing too much like everybody else so they are not really setting themselves apart and showing their marketing edge, what makes them different and what can make their solution be valuable to the right people. A new consultant will often start off small and disregard distribution channels that are needed to give them a wider platform.

I work from my home office in Spain, have staff all over the world and my consultancy clients, who usually pay the high five figures and six figures, are people I've never met. I do consulting with them through Skype, I have sold to them via the phone and they have bought into our consultancy services. We have never physically met us in person
however the results that they get are absolutely fantastic for their own businesses.

Many of them want to adopt a consultancy arm themselves. So, I think here it's all about the business model that it is used and been really smart about the marketing channels that are used.

Marsha Wright
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