Have you ever wondered how to be a consultant? What does a consultant do? Well, the answer is simple – a consultant consults. The answer, though true in its basic sense, is much too vague. If you want to become a self-employed consultant, you need to have a better idea about the business and the way to set it up. Let’s try to define the role of a consultant.
The task of a consultant is to provide advice to an individual or organization about matters in a specific niche. Still sounds vague; right? You need to dig a little deeper into the area before you plunge in to establish your business as a consultant.
Below is a step-by-step guide to help you start off as a self-employed consultant.
How To Be a Consultant: 10 Steps to Self Employment
Step 1: Identify the Niche in Which You Have Knowledge and Experience
You may have an interest in computers. However, this does not mean you can become an independent computer consultant (though it can give you a head-start in this field). Knowledge and experience coupled with interest is the only way to begin.
If you have knowledge about computers (hardware or software), have worked with these for a considerable period of time and have the latest detailed, information about them, you can plan to start a computer consulting business.
Step 2: Acquire the Certifications and Licenses
Some consulting businesses do not require formal training and certifications (e.g., gardening consulting). However, if you are planning to work as an accounting consultant, you need to get professional certifications from recognized accounting institutions.
Also, consider the licensing requirements to start a consulting business. The local or state legal guidelines may require you to get a particular license to work as an independent consultant in certain specialties.
Step 3: Decide Your Short and Long Term Goals
If you excel in a niche that has a good prospect, such as business consulting, computer consulting, career consulting and so on, you may paint a rosy picture of clients waiting for your advice within a week of starting your consulting business.
It’s not magic. If you have such unrealistic expectations, you are sure to be disappointed. Every business takes time to grow and become known and established. If you lack the time and effort to start and establish a business, you may end up headed towards failure.
Step 4: Choose Your Target Market
If no one pays for your ideas and advice, your business will face failure. It will also face the same result if the recipients of your ideas do not have the money to pay you. The first thing you need to do is to decide whether you will advise individuals or companies.
Every niche in the consulting business provides these options. For example, if you are working as a career consultant, you may help individuals plan their careers. You may also work with a large corporation to help the employees excel in their chosen fields.
Step 5: Research Your Target Market
Individuals and organizations need consultants for a number of reasons. A tax consultant can help a millionaire plan his/her taxes. A computer consultant can help the employees of a large company learn software basics. A human resource consultant can help a big business implement a change in a policy.
After you determine the target market that will hire you for your expertise, you need to find out the various ways in which you may help them. This will help you market your consulting business. You need to tell your clients why they need you.
Step 6: Consider a Home Office
If your local laws permit this, it can work to your advantage in more ways than one. You don’t spend any money to buy or rent an office space to start your business as a self-employed consultant. You don’t need to pay for utilities separately. You don’t need to pay for a regular commute.
Along with the money, you also save time and energy when you work out of your home. You may acquire new premises after you have established your business and employed associates; but more on this later.
Step 7: Build Your Network
If no one knows you and you know no one in your field, you may find yourself in the midst of a disaster soon. It is important to start building your network as soon as you have decided to be a consultant. A strong contact base ensures that you have the sources to find work.
A professional network, coupled with a social network, can help you market and advertise your business. References are also important ways to find work in the niche. Rely on your initial contact base to build your network.
Step 8: Fix Your Fees and the Way to Bill Clients
As a beginner, you may not receive high fees as a consultant. Your charges increase as you become known as a consultant. Keep in mind your credentials and experience as well as market conditions, your target group and your competitors when you fix your fees.
Also, decide how you will bill clients. Hourly billing may seem to be a convenient method; the problem is many clients think that you charge too much for your time. It is best to use the project-based billing method when you start your consulting business.
Step 9: Arrange for Advertising and Marketing
You are not selling a house which, by the way, is much easier than selling your advice. Many of your clients may not be even aware that they need your ideas and advice. How do you market and advertise something so difficult? Believe it or not, you have a lot of choices – print media, cold-calls, online ads and many others.
Before you choose any avenue to advertise, decide your budget. If the costs go out of hand, the chance of success of your business plummets. Newsletters and brochures, advertisements in niche-specific journals, websites and blogs offer the best options.
Step 10:Determine Whether You Need to Outsource Certain Tasks
You may find it easier to handle all tasks of your business on your own when you start. But after your consulting business is up and running, you may need the help of others and you may decide to employ people. Check both legal and tax details before you do this.
You may also outsource some tasks that do not require your immediate attention. Make sure that the tasks are not connected to your consulting business. For example, you can outsource auditing for a career consulting business but not when it is your niche.
Consulting Photo via Shutterstock