Starting a consulting business is a big change. You will have left corporate life for the open ocean of self-employment. The number of possibilities are limitless, and deciding which choices are right falls directly on your shoulders.
On top of confronting a sea of choice, new consultants are required to manage and undertake a host of new tasks — trying to juggle delivering to clients, networking, administration and more, all at the same time.
New consultants might find themselves struggling to focus, make choices or keep their business on track. A large part of resolving the feeling of being pulled in many different directions is simply becoming acclimated to your new environment. However, there are a few tips that will prepare you for consulting, and make building your business far simpler and more likely to succeed.
Start with your goals for getting into consulting
If you are starting to feel overwhelmed as a new consultant, think about why you originally wanted to start your independent consulting business. There are many perks to consulting: you’re in charge of your schedule, you get to choose how much you work, how much you get paid and who you work with.
However, remember that nobody goes from zero to fully-fledged consulting practice overnight — it’s something that takes a lot of time and patience to develop.
Thinking that you need to achieve your ultimate consulting goals in one giant leap is neither realistic nor psychologically healthy. It’s much better to break your ambition down into a series of smaller steps with attainable milestones. Putting stepping stones between where you are now and where you want to be in five years puts you on the path to success and, as a byproduct, helps you maintain your focus without feeling overwhelmed.
Instead of merely writing down a goal, think about how you could break it down further into actionable steps.
- You want freedom over your schedule
Independent consultants control their own schedule. If having that kind of freedom over your work/life balance is the reason you got into consulting, you should prioritise making that a reality.
How to achieve freedom over your schedule
Control over your schedule ultimately relies on choice. If you have more client opportunities than you can take, you will be empowered to choose the jobs you want and make more demands regarding your schedule.
To achieve freedom in the long run, you’ll need to commit to a schedule to start with. That is because increasing your client opportunities revolves around networking, creating a brand and delivering exceptional results during your first engagements. Make sure you prioritise networking and put in the groundwork that will deliver you flexibility in the long run.
- You want job security
Running your own business is the best way to create job security. With a large number of clients all wanting your services, you will be insulated from failure if you lose any single opportunity. Although it’s a common misconception that working for yourself is unstable employment, many people start consulting businesses with the aim of securing a future that is protected from departmental restructures, business failure or any other change that is outside of your control.
How to achieve job security
The process of building a secure consulting business is very similar to creating freedom over your schedule — it comes down to creating a large enough pool of clients that there is more demand for your skills than you have time to deliver.
Beyond networking, a big part of maximising the size of your network is creating a consistent track record of success. That means delivering great outcomes for lots of different clients. How you go about delighting every client has to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. However, make sure that you never ‘over-promise’, and don’t try and rehash advice — always keep in mind the specifics of every client.
You should also prioritise short-term contracts, particularly at the beginning. This can seem counterintuitive if you are seeking job security. Taking on one big, year-long project early on can seem like a great opportunity for a consultant just starting out. However, this will limit your growth potential. By working with a lot of clients to start with, you will expand your network and build greater job security in the long run — don’t ignore the long game just to feel comfortable today.
- You want to maximise your income
If you become a premium consultant in the UK, you could be earning in excess of £2,500 per day, and significantly more depending on the contract and your skillset. By becoming a consultant, you are likely to increase your value. Think about it — you will be taking your skills and applying them in situations where they are desperately needed. Simply by default, this increases your value from the more stagnant position of working for the same business, day-in and day-out.
However, if you want to reach the heights of what consulting can offer you in terms of earnings, you will need a plan. You must think about the clients you take on and invest in the future to transform yourself into the best consultant you can be.
How to command the highest day rates as a consultant
First, think about your clients. For example, a large financial services firm will obviously be able to pay more than an NGO. Well-funded tech start-ups have more cash on hand than struggling legacy businesses.
Some consultants like to prioritise who they work with, creating an optimal work environment. This is a perfectly respectable priority. These kinds of choices might align with maximising your financial returns — but each is a different metric that you should keep in mind depending on what you value most.
Second, think about your skills. The most successful independent consultants are often both specialists and generalists. You can build a highly-profitable consulting business as either. However, if you can dive into the weeds on particular in-demand areas and then back out and connect those results to wider business concerns with a holistic flare, you will maximise your value to clients and be able to command higher fees.
Fundamentally, independent consultants should never stop learning. Always invest in yourself — keep the skills you have up to date and look to learn new ones. If you can identify areas related to your core skill set that you could learn more about, make that investment — it will pay off.
Align your daily goals with your long term goals
Even with short-term goals, some new consultants (or those new to independent consulting) can feel overwhelmed. Goals can feel too broad and non-specific while you’re sat there in your office, waiting for the work to arrive.
Figuring out micro-goals you can achieve on a daily basis can help enormously.
- Focus on the day-to-day. Focusing on the day-to-day will enable you to zoom in on the problems that you need to address on a micro-level before your big-picture, macro-level ambitions come into focus.
- Meet with six to eight people a week for networking. Building your network is vital and should be a regular and substantial part of what you do.
- Add five new LinkedIn connections per week. LinkedIn is a wonderful resource for consultants, not only providing direct communication with potential clients but also giving them information about a specific individual’s responsibilities and whether they are in a position to recommend consulting services to their team.
- Engage with social media. Those new to independent consulting need to engage regularly with social media — at least once per week. Playing an active role on social media will help you to connect with people who might want to employ your services. Social media is also an excellent tool for building your online reputation by showing off follower numbers and showcasing your user engagement.
- Learn a new skill every month. Independent consultants are lifelong learners, continually seeking new knowledge that will help them offer more insightful and useful advice than their peers. Quality consultants who want to make a name for themselves must adopt new thinking and find ways to employ it successfully in client settings.
- Address pain points in your target industry. If you want to set yourself up in a particular sector, it’s vital to address its most pressing issues directly. Convey yourself as somebody who understands the problems of the day and who has the ideas and experience to direct organisational change.
Build Your Support Structure
Finally, it’s a good idea for every new consultant to put in place support structures that can help them when times get tough. Many independent consultants, for instance, hire an executive assistant (EA). The job of the assistant is to take over the day-to-day tasks of keeping your business running, allowing you to get on with high value-added activities (such as being a consultant and networking with new and existing clients).
You may also want to consider taking part in an associate programme or consulting partnership instead of trying to go it alone right from the start. Consulting partnerships provide you with support and training to help you grow your consulting skill set and expand your client relationships. You also get access to a community of like-minded people should you need it, where you can get advice from established consultants who were once in your position.
The trick to making your move into independent consulting success is to take things one day at a time. Although it’s a common concern for independent consultants who are just starting out, it’s essential to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Successful new independent consultants tend to relax into their new roles. They are persistent and follow tried-and-tested strategies which tend toward success over the long-run. Think about your long-term goal, but always remain focused on today. You are on the right track — let your business grow and you will succeed.