Before I start a presentation, my habit is to walk around the room closely listening to the pre-session conversations and observing attendees. When possible, I ask attendees what insight they hope to gain. During a recent presentation at PMI’s 50th Anniversary Global Conference, one attendee was extremely talkative. As she asked questions, people around her lifted their heads listening to her and chiming in with comments. Her questions started with…
“I work within a company right now, but I’m thinking about my future. I want to become a consultant, an independent professional, but I’m not sure if there is anything I can do now to prepare. Can I start becoming a consultant while still working within my company? If so, what are your top three recommendations?”
What great questions! Both of which provided an ideal introduction to my presentation. By the way, my response was a resounding YES!
Whether you’ve started building your consulting business independently or currently working within a company, I believe there are three top beginner steps that can help a consultant become a successful go-to person.
But before I begin, I must provide a caveat. Think of these as a step 0, preparation for the first steps. I recommend any person thinking about embarking on a career as a consultant evaluate themselves in three areas: their personal reasons for consulting, business and consulting knowledge and skills, and their support structure. This evaluation and its assessment can assist a person with determining if consulting is a career choice for them or not. The three steps are…
1. Understand your FOCUS
This is my top recommendation because your focus is your niche. It is that one thing for which you want to become known as the go-to person. It is the one decision that impacts just about everything you do as you build your consultancy.
The word consultant is nebulous. It is too board. Being more specific, or what is often called niching down, helps you stand out from the crowd.
An easy way to explain this concept is think about what happens when you perform an internet search and you’re not specific enough. For example, if you perform a search on the word consultant, the volume of results is over 300,000 (monthly volume as of 10/13/2019). You hope you find an article or something that grabs your attention on the first page or two because you do not want to keep searching. However, the chances are high that you wouldn’t find “it.” But, if you add a word or two before consultant, you will end up with different results. For example, add “manufacturing” to “consultant” and the volume is 800 or “tax” to “consultant” the volume is 200. Narrowing the search resulted in a much more manageable number of internet entries to peruse.
Adding a few words in front of consultant helps people understand your focus, your niche, making it easier for people to find you. A question to ask yourself: Do you want to be the big fish in a small pond or the small fish in a big pond? For me, I rather be the big fish in a small pond.
Click for a handout designed to help you “Determine Your Consulting Focus.”
2. Learn how to network and build relationships. I’m not talking about collecting business cards. I’m talking about what is called “meaningful networking.” Meaningful networking is connecting with the right personal and professional people. This requires targeting and exploring different personal and professional “networks” until you establish the combination that enables you build meaningful connections and relationships.
When building relationships with people, show your care about them and be willing to share with them personally as well as professionally. Try to make sure every interaction provides value to both of you. As you connect with different people and ask to meet, ask yourself why they should spend time with you? If the meeting is only to gather information from them, be honest with them before setting up the meeting. Then, contemplate if there is anything that you can contribute or help them achieve. But just don’t contemplate, ASK.
3. Develop your own intellectual property. Everybody I know has intellectual property–models, discussions, graphics, concepts, aids, articles, videos–something that is uniquely theirs. Many people do not realize that they have intellectual property, but they do. Take time to pull out your intellectual property from yourself
I had a colleague, new to consulting, call me one day to discuss a potential consulting engagement. She wanted to know if she could use one of my project management training modules for a presentation to team at a perspective client. As I listened to the client’s request, my response was NO. It was clear, the client was not simply looking to see how she presented to an audience. The client was interested in her ideas, her intellectual property, not mine. This required the colleague to leverage her strengths to create her own short presentation that consisted of her ideas and point of view. Not only did she impress the team, she won the work.
Whether you’ve started building your consulting business or currently working within a company but preparing for change, my top three beginner recommendations for success are: Understand Your FOCUS; Learn How to Network and Build Relationships; and Develop Your Own Intellectual Property. All three recommendations assist a person new to consulting become the successful go-to person. But before you start working to implement any of the three recommendations, ask yourself if you have what it takes to be successful as a consultant. Is consulting for you or not?
Hi, I’m Laura (Dallas) Burford. I help independent business professionals (consultants, contractors, freelancers, service-based professionals) and boutique consulting businesses get clients and make money.
What I do: I partner with professionals and businesses on clarifying their focus and then work with them to get clients that they want to work with so that they make money and grow their businesses.
How I do: I leverage a simple and flexible framework known as The Consultancy Model©. For those new, stalled, or reentering the consulting world I have a signature program known as Consulting JUMPSTART Blueprint©.
Why I do what I do: I want to see people to succeed and not fail. Sometimes all that is needed is an extra hand.
Check out the Free Resources page on Laura’s Consulting Guide for free consulting resources.