Anyone thinking about leaving a salaried job to start a consulting business considers the risk. The fear of a financial hit can dissuade talented individuals from pursuing their dream of self-employment.
I am here to tell you that becoming an independent consultant does not need to be a gamble. There’s no need for you to miss a paycheck whilst you’re transitioning from your old job to your new career. The benefits of independent consulting far outweigh the risks. All you need to do is plan ahead.
There are many things you can start to do before even quitting your job — this is the key to a smooth transition. Expanding your skill set and building a network will ensure that by the time you land your first real client, you don’t have to worry about building the foundations to a new business — you’ll already have done that!
In this article, we’ll outline exactly what you can start doing to prepare for your new independent consulting career, taking the gambling out of starting your new consulting business before you leave your current job.
Talk to your peers to better understand yourself
The first thing you can do to lay the groundwork of your consulting business is to better understand exactly what you will be able to offer all of your future clients. The best way to try and figure this out is to talk to your peers.
You will have lots of friends, relatives, co-workers and other peers in your industry who you will be able to bounce your consulting ideas off. If you put your feelers out for this, you can start to get an idea of whether your consultancy will actually work. Is there a demand for what you have to offer? What do people expect from the kind of business that you could set up? What do the people you know think that you are good at?
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You might think that you understand your strengths and weaknesses. But it is hard to step outside of yourself and look at what you have to offer with unbiased eyes. People who work with you see what you deliver every day. Your colleagues might even suggest that you can bring some skills to the table that you didn’t really realise you possess. So, if you haven’t had a chat about your consulting idea to any of your peers, now is the time to do so!
Asses and extend your current network
Talking to people you know about your skill set also provides you the opportunity to assess your current network. You need to figure out who you know, who you need to know and how you are going to go about expanding your network. Your assessment should start with the people you know well, the people you are bouncing your ideas off of, and then extend to a broader group of people you may need to approach more formally.
Even though you and those in your network will be incredibly busy, it can still be easy to find time to keep in touch. Simply ask them for a coffee and chat, or drop them an occasional message so that you can keep the connection. You will be at the forefront of their minds so they will also be likely to recommend you to anyone who they know who may be looking for a consultant.
The key to making a good first impression, particularly with people you don’t know well, is to get an introduction from someone they do know, and then deliver value. Even if people are busy, they will make time for you if you make each meeting valuable. Research people, and their businesses, before you meet. Don’t launch into sales pitches, rather show your skills by providing a taste of what you would deliver as a consultant.
You should also start to extend your network on LinkedIn. Add people who look interesting or are in the same industry as you, and send them a message to introduce yourself. Be sure to post regularly and engage with content from others. The more active you are, the less likely it will be that others will forget you.
It’s a good idea to become a thought leader on LinkedIn. By doing so, you will be showing others all of your knowledge that you have gained through the years. This should show them exactly why you are a great consultant and that you have plenty of skills and experience in your specific niche. Once again, this should make people a lot more likely to reach out to you if they ever hear of someone who is on the lookout for a new consultant.
However, your LinkedIn connections shouldn’t just be digital. Make an effort to meet people in person, either at your local networking events or by arranging a one-on-one meeting. This will put a real face to a name, helping you to solidify most connections as well.
Create a schedule and figure out your minimum day rate
Consulting is a role that is constantly changing, and this means that most consultants never have any two days that are alike! This is great in one sense as it means that you will never be bored in your work. However, it is really important that you do try to create a schedule that you can stick to as much as possible. This is so you can take care of your business’ admin and network expansion, while also delivering to clients.
It will really benefit you to hire an executive assistant (EA) right from day one of your consulting business. They will help you stay on top of all the little responsibilities and tasks that you will need to take care of alongside the main parts of being a consultant.
Don’t forget to spend some time considering your minimum day rate. If you don’t get this right, then you could end up undercharging for your services, which would make it particularly tricky to make a profit. However, you shouldn’t price yourself too high as this could put some potential clients off hiring you. Different clients are able to pay different rates, but the premium day rate for an experienced consultant in the UK is between £2,000-£5,000, so this is worth bearing in mind.
Join a consulting partnership
If you join a consulting partnership you will have access to training, mentorship and networking opportunities. The partnership will be able to help you establish a successful consultancy business that is very sustainable. Once you do find a consulting partnership, you will find that your network grows while you are able to ask for tailored advice whenever you need it.
Be careful that you research the programme that you want to join as some associate programmes are more focused around providing you with work, rather than training you to build your own independent consulting business. Both consulting partnerships and associate programmes come with varying pros and cons, so it’s important to do your research before you sign up to anything.
Removing risk is about planning ahead in consulting
Deciding to set up a new independent consulting business will certainly be a big leap, but you have every chance to make a success of it if you follow all the tips above. The more you can get set up before you leave your current job, the less risk there will be in the transition. Plan ahead, build a schedule and stick to it. If you can do all that, you will be able to remove this common concern of new consultants, and be in a good position to make sure that the transition from your current job is as smooth as possible so that you don’t ever miss a paycheck!