How to become a consultant: 15 tips for success

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With the rise of the gig economy, now is the time to pursue consulting, according to author Elaine Biech.

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The gig economy is fundamentally changing the workforce, providing workers with the flexibility to choose their own hours and work out of the office environment. By 2025, the majority of the workforce will be a part of the gig economy, working as consultants, contractors, temporary, or freelance employees, according to Randstand’s Workplace 2025 study.

SEE: The gig economy: An insider’s guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

However, entering the gig economy can be more difficult than some might think. “Don’t let the fear of failure hold you hostage,” said Elaine Biech, author of The New Business of Consulting: The Basics and Beyond, in a press email. “Try reframing your fear. Tell yourself you are doing what’s right for you, that it is exciting and forward-leaning. You will be more successful by moving than stagnating, so find something you can do every day to move closer to your dream.”

Consulting work can be particularly lucrative for tech experts. Biech offered the following 15 tips for becoming a consultant in today’s gig economy:

1. Don’t believe myths about consulting: Many people assume with consulting that they will make a lot of money right away, will have more free time, and will avoid office politics. Those assumptions aren’t necessarily true, Biech said, so try and ditch assumptions before starting the job.

2. Be aware that working alone can be hard for some people: Biech recommends meeting up with other consultants or regularly having lunch with friends as ways to combat loneliness.

3. You can’t rely on your area of expertise to be a successful consultant: Just because you are learned in your field doesn’t mean you will be a successful consultant, Biech said. Consultants must also know how to run a business and be an entrepreneur.

4. Take a test drive before you commit to being a full-time consultant: If you aren’t ready to dive into consulting head first, keep your full-time job and do consulting on the side.

5. Don’t skip the planning process: Begin a consulting businesses with a solid plan, including business, marketing, and financial plans, or else the business will fail.

6. Don’t set your fees too low: Never lowball yourself, Biech said. Consider what figure is necessary to have a comfortable salary and cover businesses expenses, and stick to it.

7. Hire the best accountant for your support team: This should be one of the first steps a consultant takes, Biech said. An accountant is necessary to provide advice about business decisions.

8. Begin a testimonial file right away: Gather testimonials from your clients and keep them in a file. These can prove useful for brochures or proposals in the future.

9. Go for the big fish. You’ll spend just as much time baiting the hook: “When I started, I decided to focus on medium- to large-size businesses,” Biech said. “This was one of the best decisions I ever made. Large businesses make numerous training and consulting purchases in a year and may feel more comfortable taking a risk on a new consultant.”

10. Look for low-budget ways to market yourself: You don’t need a huge budget to properly market yourself as a consultant, Biech said. Start small, whether it’s through blogging, writing articles for a professional journal, sending out holiday cards, or conducting a survey, as these are typically easy, inexpensive avenues for marketing.

11. Plan for the worst-case scenario, but act as if you’re living the best-case: Maintain the belief that you will succeed, but also prepare for obstacles along the way, Biech said.

12. Do all you can to win repeat business: Make it your goal to bill 50% to 75% of your annual revenue from the previous year’s clients, Biech said. Consultants want a solid clientele base that keeps coming back.

13. Always work to create the client’s independence: Consultants aren’t trying to make clients dependent on them, but rather, are trying to make sure they get the most return possible on their investment.

14. Don’t lower your rate because a client doesn’t have a big enough budget: This is a quick way for a consultant to get a bad reputation, Biech said. Stick with the rate you originally stated, or else risk looking unethical or unfair to other clients.

15. Put quality and your clients ahead of everything else—including profitability: The work might come to an end, but relationships don’t, Biech said. Always make sure to provide quality service and maintain a solid reputation for the sake of your career.

For more, check out TechRepublic’s article on how to get the most from your consulting firm.

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Image: iStockphoto/Chaay_Tee



How to become a consultant: 15 tips for success