Regular visitors to this blog will notice that over the past few weeks, I’ve devoted special emphasis to tactics and strategies that will help Freelancers keep our consulting practices alive and well. Competition in the field is intensifying and clients are aware that they can be very exacting in their hiring requirements, since there is no shortage of available talent, especially in mid-size and large cities. According to Statista, the number of management consultants has grown every year since 2012 and as of 2016, there area 637,000 management consultants working (or trying to!) in the U.S.
As we all know, ever since the late 1980s, when the concept of “downsizing” gained popularity in corporate offices and the ways to separate citizens from full-time, long-term employment became numerous, many workers who either found ourselves highly skilled but nevertheless unemployable, or who eventually tired of endless cycles of hirings and firings (a common occurrence in the IT industry), decided to strike out on our own and exert some measure of control over our professional and economic destiny. What did we have to lose? We were already in trouble. Manage the risk before the risk manages you.
When you’ve worked in the Knowledge Economy and find yourself contemplating whether to launch your own venture, by design or default, a solo consultancy that offers B2B services that you already know seems a simple and obvious choice.
Start-up costs are minimal—there’s nothing much to invest in for the launch, except for business cards and a website. There’s no need to rent an office and no need to hire employees. You already own a smart phone and some sort of computer. At most, you might invite a couple of your unemployed coworker buddies to come in with you. In no time, you’ll be ready to see clients and charge a pretty penny for the advice that you give. Easy, right?
Well, not exactly. Unless you’ve worked for a consulting company that provides you with a stable of clients that know you and value your expertise and there’s no non-compete hagreement that prevents you from, ahem, stealing a few clients from your former employer and bringing them to you roster—-a time-honored and usually successful practice, BTW—you may find yourself floundering when it comes to obtaining clients. If you’ve got a well-placed pal or two who is able and willing to divert a contract to you, you could be twiddling your thumbs for quite some time, despite the furious networking that you do and your growing social media presence. The truth of consulting is, no one gets a client unless that client knows you and the value of your work.
The “catch 22” is that you can’t get a client without experience and you can’t get experience until you get a client. A business plan that is in reality an extended marketing plan that encourages you to think strategically, rationally and in detail about the following items should be written. Bear in mind that your services are valuable only insofar as there is client demand. There may be no market at all for several of your strongest competencies, alas.
- Services for which there is demand and you have the expertise and credibility to deliver those services and prospective clients who will pay you to do so
- How to price your services
- How to make clients perceive that you are worth your asking price
- Your access to clients with the motive and money to hire you
- The need for a partner (or two) and how that person can help launch and sustain the venture
Without a pre-existing reputation in the industry, you’ll find the early days of consulting to be quite difficult. Lining up part-time employment will help your cash-flow. Teaching at the college level is always a good option because it enhances your credibility and pays well for a part-time gig. Whenever possible, find work that not only gives you money, but also demonstrates your expertise to potential clients.
If you can become at least an occasional contributing writer to a noteworthy publication, or get articles included in a local business publication, you will enhance the perception of your expertise, as will college-level teaching of a subject related to your B2B services. Joining a not-for-profit board that brings you into contact with potential clients and referrers who can watch you take on committee work that demonstrates your bona fides will be helpful. Becoming a mentor at a respected new venture start-up center will likewise enhance your credibility.
If you can participate in a webinar, YouTube video, or podcast, where you can elaborate on the application of your expertise and the results that you deliver, you will be able to post the link on your website and social media accounts, so that prospective clients can see you in action and hear what you know.
Those who do not have a ready stable of potential clients must work very hard and very smart to make up for that deficit, but it will not impossible to build a consulting practice that will support you financially and of which you can be proud. There are many paths that lead to a profitable B2B consulting practice and with a dose of god luck, you will find your path, too.
Thanks for reading,