The Accidental Business Consultant, or Not

start a consulting business
How to start a consulting business in the right ways

Q: What is the largest expanding industry in America today?
A: Private Consulting

Not only are there more small companies than at any time in American history materializing, but an ever growing number of those businesses are private consultants. Why is this? Is it the Obama financial plan? Has government developed these “new” jobs as is so frequently the claim? I think I talk for most of you when I say the answer is, “Certainly not.” The new consulting businesses popping up across the map are a outcome of corporate scaling back and the difficulty in re-landing qualified work. As large corporations are downsizing on technocrats including engineers, human resource professionals, and MBAs, Vistage-style consulting firms are bred from the suffocating corporate cadavers like a Phoenix soaring from the ashes.

There are three reasons why these experts, suddenly jobless, become consultants:

  1. They’re specialists with technical skills and gifts. They’re too proud to work at Wendy’s, Target, or collect food stamps from Mother Government. The case for action for starting their own company hit like a hammer on a rusty nail when they were let go.
  2. Other big firms, long the symbol of corporate status and security, are scaling back too. There just aren’t as many qualified jobs in corporations. But the task still needs to be done, so the big boys are outsourcing. This change in the technical industry has brightened light bulbs over the heads of thousands in the past 5 years.
  3. They aren’t good enough to earn a living playing golf.

Are all these companies going to achieve success in lobbying for the seeds spread by Microsoft, Facebook, and General Electric? Well … No. There are still vital business success factors which need to be demonstrated by these new S-corps. As I own and run my own business growth consulting firm, here are some of my own deep thoughts and tips for getting started in this popular industry.

Solve for Why?

If you wish to make a living as a consultant, you first must find a more enabling “Why?” than the 3 explanations I just offered. Being driven into a career shift is typically not the best way to guarantee permanent success. But don’t despair, even if that’s how you started, you can rapidly come to recognize other, more powerful reasons for being your own employer, like:

  1. Work for Yourself. Make your own hours and take holidays when YOU want to.
  2. Freedom to plunge into any niche market that intrigues YOU. Your interest and passion are key incentives when times are tough.
  3. Retire when YOU want to. This isn’t set by a corporate scheme.
  4. Earn what YOU want. You never again have to grumble that you’re worth more than you earn. As a consultant, you’re worth exactly what you make!
  5. Your job is as safe as you make it.
  6. You work where you want. Home, office, or villa in the south of Europe.

Once a consulting firm is in progress, these arguments must be convincing enough to propel the leaders through the tough times, documentation, and trivialities that your own business will surely bring.

The next thing that possible consultants have to do to achieve professional success is to specify the scope of the business. The means to do this is to first examine yourself and any employees that you may have. What are your technical strong points? Weak points? Interests? The parameters of the services that are provided should play on the technical strengths and hobbies of the consultants and avoid the weak spots like the plague. You may wonder, “Why is that necessary?” to which the answer is, the best way to use a life jacket is to never get in water over your head. Sticking with your strengths avoids drowning. Consumers and Rivals You’re excited about beginning this company! You know what you want to consult on! What now? Before making the jump, it’s a good idea to know and be able to define 3 things:

  1. Is there a market for my services? Who will my clients be?
  2. Who else does what I do? Or, who is the competition?
  3. Why am I superior to those folks in number 2?

If you are offering spectacular vistas of the sunset from your eastern facing terrace, you’ve got a problem! If there is no niche for your services, punt for now, flip some burgers to pay the bills, and re-think it. If there is, you’re not out of the woods yet. Someone else may do what you do. In reality, maybe a lot of folks do what you want to do. If that’s the situation, you’re going to have to penetrate their market, because unless you get extremely lucky and get a customer on a good day, you’ll most likely have to steal somebody else’s business, which means you should have a powerful good response for number 3 … Why you’re business is different and more importantly, offers more worth to your customer!

My wife sold long distance for about a year and got out of the business. She told me that it is one of the most cut-throat industries to be in. Why? Because everybody has a phone, and 99.9 % of those people have long distance service. It takes one hell of a sales spiel to make people want to switch something that most of them are comfortable with, especially in the 30 seconds you’ll most likely have before they hang up! Think Energy Choice for another good example. Telling them why you’re better necessitates creating recognition of a problem that the potential client may not even realize they have. This is the most crucial factor in making a living consulting! You can be the best engineer, accountant, or paralegal that there is, but if you can’t definitely describe what sets you apart from all the others, then practice this, “Hi. Welcome to Wal-Mart. Have a good day!”

The Many Hats You’ll Wear

Without covering the entire field of “How to become a Consultant, 101”, the final thing a resourceful young, or old for that matter, consultant in anything needs to be is fashion conscious. Unless you happen to have bankrolled six figures of seed money for your company, you are going to have to wear a lot of hats, and if any of them happen to clash with the rest of the outfit, it will be the absolute business faux paus. For instance, as an engineer at IBM, my normal day may have orbited around the marching orders of running printed circuit peel tests, resolving a processing problem on line number 3, and going to a status meeting to present to my administration when I’m going to finish the new inspection machine. Intriguing stuff, I know, but as complicated or not as this may sound, these duties are relatively restricted in scope if not technical intricacy. They’re all engineering tasks!

For my consulting firm, I have to juggle a lot more eggs, and if one hits the ground, “Splat!” A partial list of some of the “hats” that I, and most initial consultants, must wear are those of the…

  • tax accountant,
  • salesman,
  • assistant,
  • garbage man,
  • shipping and receiving clerk,
  • personnel manager,
  • purchasing agent,
  • accounts payable and receivable clerk,
  • travel agent,
  • customer service representative,

Eventually, many of these operations can be handed over or subcontracted, but until the company has a full plate of clients to feast on, these tasks normally fall on YOU.

There are many other avenues of professional consulting that I could explore with you, but that would take multiple days and I’d have to charge you ten thousand dollars for my time. Suffice it to say that if you think you may wish to join the echelons of us consultants, make sure you want it for the right reasons, that you know exactly what it is you want to advise on, you know your industry and your market knows you, and do your calisthenics, because you will need to have Gumby-like versatility to pull it off.

About the Author:
Karl WalinskasStarting a consulting business is a daunting thing for the fledgling entrepreneurial soul.   Distinguishing yourself online as a pro can be overwhelming.   Need help getting your business growing faster?   Karl Walinskas owns Smart Company Growth, a firm that helps businesses grow through sparking sales and controlling expenses and cash flow.   He’s been published for years on better leadership, communication, and marketing practices for small business and authored the book, “Getting Connected through Exceptional Leadership”.   You can read the Smart Blog for small business growth to learn more tips you can use today.