So you’ve climbed your way up the corporate ladder, earned respect and now you have the title and the prestige — a status that you don’t want to lose by striking out on your own as an independent consultant.
However, you don’t have to lose that status. If anything, starting your own consulting business will earn you more prestige — prestige that is only attached to your name, rather than another corporation.
But you may be thinking, without a known company, how could you have that same kind of professional reputation within the industry? It’s simple. It will all hinge on your personal reputation.
Independent consultants trade on their own reputation, built on delivering value and offering your knowledge to other businesses and helping them to grow.
When people think of consultants, they will think of you, because you have the skills that deliver real results and you’ve created a brand for yourself. Read on to find out why ditching the title of ‘VP’ will add to your prestige, ensuring you gain a personal reputation that people know, respect and trust.
Become a CEO, VP and the board of directors — become an entrepreneur
People like their job titles. Company reputation matters, but so is your ability to say “I’m the VP of ...”
What you should never forget, however, is the cache of calling yourself an “independent business owner”. Because here’s the thing… If just anyone could be an independent consultant, they’d be absolutely everywhere. The key decision makers in your network know that getting to where you are requires a rich and diverse set of skills as well as extraordinary organisational and time management prowess.
What’s more, you’re one of the precious few who had the confidence to strike out on your own. And no matter how many decades you spend working at a company, you simply wouldn’t be able to command that kind of entrepreneurial respect.
As an independent consultant, you’re no longer limited to just one title — you own a company, you run that company and you will gain the respect that comes along with that responsibility. You are trading in your corporate title for that of business owner and entrepreneur, making you a CEO, board of directors and everything else rolled into one.
Build a personal reputation by working for yourself
When you work for someone else, your victories are never truly your own. Your boss and your peers may recognise your achievements, but the rewards of your work will ultimately go to benefit the organisation for which you work.
When you become an independent consultant, a shift occurs. Like with your old job, you’ll be working to deliver positive outcomes for your clients, but, unlike your old job, it will be as a representative of yourself. Everything becomes tied to your own personal reputation, rather than the prestige value of the company that employs you.
Operating in the market on your own builds a personal reputation. As an independent consultant, you have the autonomy to succeed or fail on your own terms. Your network knows this and will give you personal credit for the change you create. You can build a personal reputation in any job, but nothing will supercharge the development of your personal reputation like working for yourself.
Personal prestige is more valuable than institutional reputation
We live in an era where people trust word of mouth and social platforms far more than they trust press releases, artful marketing or slick PR. The drive to make purchasing decisions based on personal reviews, referrals and social network connectivity has been dubbed the reputation economy. It’s alive and well, and it’s an economy that independent consultants are benefiting from every day.
Enabled by digital connectivity, the beauty of the reputation economy is that personal reputations are put on equal footing with large brands, and even favoured in some circumstances. Think about it — as a client, a brand might have a good reputation, but you won't know exactly who will show up to get the job done. When it comes to trading in personal reputations, that ambiguity evaporates.
As a consultant, if you deliver valuable outcomes to clients, that reputation will spread. Prospects will value the knowledge that when they hire you, they are hiring someone who they know can and will deliver. When you work hard to earn a reputation for yourself based on operational excellence, thought leadership and conduct that is both professional and ethical, the hard work more than pays off.
How to get started as a consultant
Hopefully by now you’re convinced that becoming an independent consultant can enhance rather than diminish the personal prestige and reputation you’ve spent your entire career building. But just how do you get started as a consultant?
The good news is that you don’t even need to quit your day job to start. You can start literally right now.
Start with a reputation first plan
Start with the foreknowledge that your reputation will be the driving force behind your new consulting business. That means laying out the groundwork to build that reputation and preparing to deliver the outcomes that will grow that reputation.
The reputation economy is powered by online communication. Meeting people face-to-face will be critical to your business, but online networking is something you need to master. Build your LinkedIn profile, engage with people online, write thought leadership and stay front of mind with a wide audience. Get in the habit of using LinkedIn for networking before leaving your current job.
You also need to focus on your skill set. Quality outcomes are key to reputation building, so you need to think about how you will deliver those outcomes to your first clients. A great first port of call are those in your network that are closest to you. By speaking with these people about your plan to become a consultant, you can learn a lot about your strengths and weaknesses. It will also kickstart your networking process.
Get networking today
Like with online networking, you can put in a lot of face-to-face networking groundwork before you leave your current job. That starts with meeting people you know well, and then expands to a broader network that you can tap into by getting referrals from those you know better.
Networking, both online and in person, is a long game. You want to avoid sales pitches. Instead, meet with people, form positive relationships and show them that you are a good consultant rather than telling them about all of your skills.
The way that you get clients as a consultant is by adding value before the contract is signed. Do your homework on people, meet them for pressure-free catch-ups and simply give them advice that they will value. You need to hold back insights for later, but by giving away some advice for free, people will be eager to meet again and see the value of hiring you directly.
Before you commit to becoming a consultant, you should go through your contacts list, identifying key decision makers and others with whom you have a good professional relationship who could one day become lucrative clients. Figure out who you know and who you need to know, and then start cultivating those relationships.
Look into consulting partnerships
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that being independent means being alone. Do some digging into consulting partnerships in your area. These can be invaluable in making the best possible start. They can provide networking opportunities, training, mentorships and administrative assistance so that you can start building a sterling reputation from day one.
However, there are several kinds of consulting partnerships that don’t all offer the same thing, so ensure you do your homework before you sign up.
The modern economy is all about personal reputation
Institutional status can be comforting… But the world has more to offer you if you embrace your own personal reputation. You need to get over this common concern of new consultants and use the reputation economy to your advantage. When you commit to dropping your corporate title in favour of owning your own business, you will add to your personal prestige in ways that are hard to imagine today.
As an independent consultant, you will take your reputation out from under the shadow of an institution and earn the kind of prestige that means the most to you — the kind that comes with bringing real value to your clients and earning the respect of your network. Not to mention the potential for better money, more opportunities and the freedom to live and work the way you want to. Get out there and start consulting today!