Walking away from a regular corporate paycheck to start consulting can be a tough yet rewarding transition. As a consultant, you can use the skills and knowledge you developed during your career to help others while being directly rewarded for your efforts. Yet it is also very challenging to get your business running and generate an income to support yourself and your family.
There are a number of things you can do right now to increase your chances of success and shorten the distance between your last corporate paycheck and your first invoice payment as a consultant.
The sales cycle for consulting can be long, so it is easiest if you start planning for your consulting career while you are still working. That means extra work on evenings and weekends for planning, marketing, and developing your profile—not necessarily starting consulting assignments. If you do start doing consulting work while you are still employed, make sure you are not breaking any rules or obligations with your current employer.
All the following things are easily done while you are still working and will help to kick-start your consulting career.
1. Decide on your Consulting niche
Before you even start consulting, you need to decide on your specialty and understand the market. There is no sense consulting in an area where you can’t make a living.
If you are a one-person consulting company, you shouldn’t and probably can’t do everything. So what areas do you have both an interest and background in to begin consulting? It may only be one aspect of what you do in your day job. Since credibility is important in consulting, it must be something you can justify and support based on your past work experience. If you can’t show expertise and experience in your consulting niche, you won’t be able to sell your services to others.
When deciding on your niche, research the competition, talk to potential customers, and get an idea about what you are up against and whether you can compete and get your share of the business. This is basically market research and is an essential first step.
2. Build your online profile
While all professionals should be doing this, it is even more important for a consultant. While you will still need to do standard sales calls and actively market your services, having an online profile may bring in clients you weren’t expecting. In any case, clients expect to be able to look you up to verify your background.
So what does this mean? If you are in a professional business-to-business (B2B) service, It means a web presence with content and information that will impress a potential client.
For social media, it means a profile on LinkedIn—Facebook is not a good choice for business-to-business consulting. If you will focus on consumers, however, then Facebook may be the right tool.
LinkedIn is about more than posting a profile; it is about joining groups and contributing to the conversation by posting updates about your activities and reaching out and connecting with others (but not just to pitch your services). This is a “long-tail” activity—you may not see results tomorrow, but what you do today is sure to benefit you down the road.
At this point, you don’t necessarily need to launch a full website. Instead you can start a blog that can develop into your business website later when you actually start your consulting business. Link: http://www.allbusiness.com/7-steps-create-first-small-business-website-12653-1.html
3. Speak at conferences
A good way to develop a profile is to present at conferences. This builds credibility, brings networking opportunities, and even provides content for LinkedIn and your blog.
Your current employer may even encourage and support you, paying for the costs of attending since you are giving the presentation as their employee. If they won’t, fund it yourself and think of it as an investment in your consulting future.
Most conferences are looking for speakers and have a formal submission process to follow. The industry conferences won’t usually pay for the seminar or your costs unless you are a keynote speaker. Look for the ones in or related to your field, look at the past seminars and topics to see if what you want to do will fit their needs, then apply.
If you get accepted, deliver an excellent seminar, get references and testimonials, and do it again.
4. Write blogs or articles
One of the best ways to convince possible clients to hire you is to demonstrate your knowledge, viewpoint, and approach. An easy way is with blogs or even articles in trade magazines. While published articles in related trade magazines will give you more credibility, you have to sell your idea to the magazine and then write to their standards, which is more challenging than writing blog posts.
You can writes posts for your own blog or even for LinkedIn. You can also contribute to other blogs if they accept guest contributions. Read blogs in the field you want to consult in, or directed to the type of clients you want to target, and see if they use guest writers. If so, email the editors with your idea.
Otherwise, pick topics that demonstrate your knowledge and expertise and write them for your website or LinkedIn blog. Keep in mind that you want to show your expertise and convince clients, so position them to do that without giving a sales pitch. You can give away your knowledge and techniques to attract initial interest—you will always find people who still want to hire you to do it.
5. Write a book
The next level up is to write a book on the topic. It doesn’t have be a traditional printed book; it can be an ebook or both. In fact, developing an ebook that is free or used as a give-away to potential clients is a great way to spread your marketing material.
For traditional books, finding a publisher is one way to do it and sometimes will increase your credibility, but you can also self-publish, which is easier than ever to do. Keep in mind that either way, writing a book in your field will not provide you much income—think of it primarily as a marketing tool.
To find a publisher, research the publishers that already publish in your area of expertise and pitch your book to them. You should first contact them to find out exactly what they want to see in a book proposal.
If you decide to self-publish, you can either create an ebook and make it available yourself on your website or use one of many different self-publishing services for both paper and ebook distribution. Carefully consider the services they provide, the rights you retain to your work, the cost to you for copies, and their marketing and distribution methods. Your book will not get into bookstores, but you want it available on the major mail order services like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble in both paper and digital format.
6. Learn how to market and sell yourself
As a consultant, you will constantly need to market and sell your services to get the next consulting job. Just being good at what you do isn’t enough if nobody wants to pay you for it or doesn’t know your services exist.
So, learn how to market and sell yourself. Spend time developing your marketing material and sales pitch before you quit your day job. The first step is a decide on a professional business name, then hire a designer to create a logo and design your marketing materials so they look professional. If you are ready to launch a website, ensure it looks professional as well, since most potential clients will look there first after you contact them.
At this point, do your research on clients and how best to find and target the ones who are most likely to hire you. Once you have your profile developed, start making calls and perhaps even set up your first consulting jobs so you can step into them as soon as you leave your day job.