Thousands of professionals have dreamed about starting their own consulting business. It seems like a great career path: Hang a shingle, bring in clients, be your own boss, do awesome stuff and make bank.
Yet consulting, as it turns out, isn’t sexy, glamorous or easy. It’s downright hard — harder than you might think. I encourage anyone with the moxie to start a consulting business. But I also offer cautions — a few “yield” signs that could save you a lot of grief and get you closer to achieving your dreams.
You’re going to face cranky people.
Some people can’t handle unpleasant relationships, especially ones in which they get BS or are kicked around. If you’re not ready to face cranky people, then consulting isn’t for you.
Consulting is a face-to-face business. You meet with people. You shake hands. You step into corporate offices. You sit across tables. You talk to people.
Your deliverable is knowledge.
A consultant is hired for one reason: knowledge.
You must assert your knowledge in the niche for which you were hired. Clients select you to work on their behalf because you know something that they don’t.
You’re probably not charging enough.
One of the biggest mistakes I see new consultants make is that they don’t charge enough for their service.
Maybe it’s guilt. Maybe it’s inexperience. But maybe they just don’t know how much they should charge. There’s no magic formula for fee-setting, but there is a general rule: Charge more than you think you should.
You’re selling yourself.
As unpleasant as it may sound, a consultant is selling him or herself. There’s nothing sordid or dirty about this. This is the way business is done in the consulting world.
To successfully sell yourself, here’s what you need to be prepared to do:
- Dress to kill. You’ve got look as good as the services you provide.
- Put a big price tag on yourself. People associate higher cost with higher value. The more you charge, the more people will consider you to be valuable.
- Be trustworthy. Trustworthiness is essential in consulting. First off, no one will hire you unless you’re trustworthy. Second, if they do hire you, they won’t take your advice. Trust is what you have to go on.
- Prove your worth. You can’t just look it; you’ve got to actually be it. Give what you promise, and give it well.
- Think of yourself as a valuable brand. The better the brand, the more successful you become. The higher-quality the brand, the better your marketing becomes.
You aren’t your own boss.
The myth of consulting is that you are your own boss.
You’re not your own boss.
I don’t know of any industry or occupation where you can essentially “be your own boss” in terms of defining what you do, when you do it and how you do it. Whoever gives you money is your boss. When you’re a consultant, that means your clients are in charge. They own your billable hours and they expect results.
Being your own boss extends to your ability to say “no,” discipline yourself to work smart and hard and demand fair fees. Beyond that, you’ve got to work hard for a bunch of other bosses.
You’re going to face disappointment.
Try starting any business, and you’ll have moments of absolute devastation, both personally and professionally. One of my entrepreneur-friends explained how the challenges of running a business caused severe health problems, and forced him to seek psychiatric care.
If that sounds brutal and scary, you bet it is.