A lot of people want to get into consulting, and it is a great option for creative entrepreneurs who need to generate cashflow when in between projects or while a major product is in development. Consulting is a great option for generating cashflow because there is no physical product to develop, manufacture, or ship. It is just your skills and knowledge that you are loaning out to a client for a specific amount of time and money.
Creative entrepreneurs can make fantastic consultants because we amass such a large number of skills in many different domains. There are lots of people who will pay to use your skills and knowledge for a time. But, like many things, being a consultant is harder than it appears, especially when you are getting started. Being an effective consultant is a skill. You will have to practice and develop that skill. Here are three important keys to being an effective consultant for when you are starting out.
1) Potential clients can be notoriously vague about what they need. An important part of your job is often to help a potential client define their problem and find out exactly what they need. If you are a creative entrepreneur, chances are you have a vast reserve of knowledge on many different subjects. Therefore, you may be tempted to say you can help clients with “anything”. You’re probably right. You can probably help with just about anything at any stage of the project if it is in your area.
But, when you couple potential clients with a vague understanding of their own problems with a consultant who vaguely says they can do “anything” you end up going nowhere fast and nobody makes any progress. This was a major mistake I made in the beginning. As soon as I started defining potential clients problems for them, I started making dramatic progress as a consultant. If you have been through the process the potential client is going through, then you should be in a prime position to determine what it is that person actually needs and what their core problem is. Once you have identified their problem, focus like a laser on it.
2) Design a product to sell. It might seem strange to think of having a product if you are a consultant, because consulting is a service, right? Well, yes, but I found that operating with a product mindset has dramatically increased my ability to help clients. Potential clients may have many needs, and you might be potentially able to help with all of them, but there are probably going to be problems that are easier for you to solve than others, or that you can solve more efficiently that others. Your goal is to hone in on those problems clients have that you are best at solving. Then design a “consulting package” that solves that problem. When you find you have a potential client whose core problem matches the problem you are most efficient at solving, you “sell” them the corresponding consulting project package.
When you are starting, you will find out what consulting package you need to design by talking to potential clients. As you talk with them, practice the skill of identifying their core problem. After you have talked to a few potential clients, you will probably see the same core problem come up more than once. When you do, that problem is a prime candidate to design a consulting package around. Then, in future conversations with potential clients, identify their problem. If it is the one that matches your consulting package, you will have the solution at the ready. Then you have a high probability of getting the client.
As you grow as a consultant, you can develop more than one consulting package around different problems. Then you will be able to assist more potential clients. Client acquisition can be one of the most time-consuming parts of the consulting process. It is not good when you are on the phone with a potential client for an hour and a half and then you realize, for whatever reason, this person will not become an actual client. If it is because their problem does not match your consulting package, having more than one available package decreases the probability this will happen.
Your job is to as quickly as possible (and is polite and practical) identify what the potential client’s problem is, match it to one of your consulting packages (if you can solve their problem), offer that package, and close the sale. Then you can get to work solving the client’s problems and get paid for the work. If the problem they have is not one you have a consulting package ready to solve, then you should let them know that you are not going to be able to solve their problem. Do this politely, of course, but having them on the phone with you after you have determined you can’t help them is wasting their time as well. They need to talk to their next potential consultant who might be able to help them.
Sometimes potential clients do know exactly what problem they need to solve. They have a very targeted need that they have self-identified. This makes it very easy to determine whether or not you have the perfect consulting package to offer them. Whether the answer is yes or no, you can identify that very quickly and move on. Potential clients like that are ideal.
3) Be action oriented and get results. Clients want to work with people who can get them results. Yes, there are opportunities to plan and strategize. Lots of clients won’t have plans in place and you can help them plan. But, it’s much more powerful if you combine developing a plan with its immediate execution. If you can develop the plan with them and then immediately execute it, you will be in an extremely strong position to attract clients. If clients are evaluating multiple consultants at the same time, the consultant that is action-oriented and committed to getting results will get the contract almost all the time.
Those are my key points for starting out. What other key points are great for would-be consultants?