Several people I work with are looking at ways to convert their professional expertise into consulting business. The motivation: jobs are fewer and more far between than they initially hoped and they need to make some money. And they need to keep busy, keep their skills sharp, and be of use to the world.
There is a market for consultants now. I hear from several people that they are getting feedback from their networks that companies are interested in hiring consultants instead of full-time employees, for the foreseeable future. Two people today reported that two prospective employers said point-blank that while there is too much work to handle with current staffing levels, they will only consider hiring consultants to fill the gap.
So we’re taking resumes and transforming much of the content into marketing material. It’s fascinating how this process is helping us sharpen up their perception of their value. Quite often, people have a difficult time writing crisp, focused resume profiles that clearly identify their core value proposition. Yet words flow much more easily when thinking through what they actually can market as a consultant.
In positioning yourself as a consultant, the core questions to answer are:
1. What problem can you solve for someone? Identifying a clear problem is an essential first step, because people usually more easily know what their problems are. They will hire YOU to provide a solution to the problem.
2. How have you solved a similar problem for your past employers? Examples are critical. You’ve developed a marketable skill set as an employee and you can use that experience for the benefit of clients. Don’t worry if you’ve never been a consultant; many consultants start after building their skills as an employee. Prospective clients are really interested only in whether you demonstrate how your projects while employed are similar to those you’ll work on for them.
3. What impact can you deliver for the prospective client? Here you need to focus on something measurable, directional, or somehow indicative of your real value. One woman said “Put me on your team, and get full-time senior level expertise on a part-time basis.” Someone else is starting with “I help companies preserve their core, and reduce costs by automating or outsourcing the rest.”
4. What services can you specifically offer to deliver on your promise? Here you need to be as clear and targeted as possible. As with a resume, if you list something, you will undoubtedly be asked to do it. So don’t include things you don’t like or want to do. Be specific also because people have little imagination. It’s like those home shows where the designer stages the house because prospective buyers need to have everything shown to them or they can’t imagine what a room could look like. Spell it out in simple, clear, concrete terms. Give examples. One client said:
I have expertise in planning and rolling out winning direct mail campaigns. Sample projects:
- Measure and analyze campaign results.
- Reduce costs through successful market research and targeted outreach.
These specifics spark people’s imaginations, as in “oh that reminds me, we have a market research project we’ve had on the back burner for six months.”
5. Why should anyone hire you? Provide a summary of your credentials – as a bio or an opening profile with a list of employers, education and training. Get recommendations from co-workers, colleagues, former bosses – especially recommendations for LinkedIn.
Answers to those questions should give you enough material for a decent marketing piece. You may want to go back and change your resume to more clearly reflect the perspective you have gained through this process. At very least, you’ll have a better elevator pitch.
Make sure whatever you pull together looks good, contains your contact information, and is in PDF format so you can attach it to e-mails. It can be one, two or three pages – or a full-blown brochure if you think consulting is in your immediate future and for some time to come. I also highly recommend getting business cards for your consulting business. Cards should list some of your services as well as your name and contact information. You never know when someone comes along who needs your help.
As you network, make sure you mention to people that you are available for consulting work. Hand them your consulting business card, and follow up with an e-mail and the marketing piece as an attachment.
Coming up with a fee structure will require you doing a little bit of research. Different industries have different standard rates. You can charge per project or by the hour. You can have a sliding scale, depending on the client (e.g. the “friend rate” or the “non-profit rate” are typically lower than a regular rate). If you offer a discounted rate, tell the client that you are doing that. Hopefully, they will realize that they are getting a good value.
One client did a wonderful brochure and then got a job. Someone else built a website based on the original marketing piece, and is now launching her coaching business with great initial success. You never know where it will lead when you decide to zero in on exactly what you do well enough that someone will pay you to do it.