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Author: Rebecca Rustin
Have you always dreamed of being the boss? Or maybe you already run a service-based business, and you’re looking to share your expertise with more people in a different capacity? If you are highly skilled at something people want to know more about, consulting may be for you.
Keep reading to find out more about the ins and outs of running a consulting business. In this article, we will cover what a consultant does and how you can launch your own consulting company.
What is a consultant?
According to entrepreneur.com, a business consultant is “A person engaged to provide professional advice or services for a fee, but not as an employee of the business that engages him or her.” In other words, a consultant is a professional who is hired by a company on a temporary basis to help improve the aspect of the business. Services offered can mean anything from improving operations to raising company morale to help staff learn new skills.
What’s the difference between a consultant and a freelancer?
Many people confuse consultants and freelancers. Possibly because consultants and freelancers both perform work or services for a company on a temporary basis. In both cases, there is usually no long-term job security, obligation or intent to pursue the relationship beyond a single contract or set timeline. Freelancers and consultants are also free to work for multiple employers at once.
The difference may boil down to expertise. Consultants are generally regarded as experts in their field. They are hired to provide advice or impart special experience regarding a specific matter.
Freelancers, on the other hand, tend to offer services that match a specific career or job title. For example, we often hear of freelance writers, artists, or designers. These professionals are not necessarily experts in their field. As a result of their expertise, consultants can generally charge more for their work.
Why would a company hire a consultant?
Hiring a consultant can allow a smaller company or start-up to save money. For instance, imagine a start-up with five employees. As the company grows, they need to hire five more people. Instead of adding an HR person for $75,000 a year, the company chooses to hire a consultant. For $30,000, this consultant helps the company find five new employees over three months.
Even if that seems like a high price point, the company will save money compared with the cost of hiring a full-time employee. They’ll also save money in the sense that they won’t need to pay employee benefits or contribute to the Canada Pension Plan on the consultant’s behalf.
How to become a consultant?
If you want to be a consultant, make sure you advise people on something you know a lot about, in a field that you love. To echo the example provided above, a person who worked in human resources for ten years will have the experience required to provide HR consulting services. So the first thing you need to start a consulting business is expertise.
In an article in The Globe and Mail, Karen Aboud, former senior merchandise and systems manager for Hudson’s Bay Company has the following advice for budding consultants: “(…) Make sure you have lots of experience to back up the fact that you’re saying that you can help these people. You’ve got to have enough, so it gives you authority.”
From this perspective, being successful in the consulting world also requires marketing skills. You have to be able to sell yourself and convince company owners of the impact your services can have on their business.
Prove your worth
You will be more successful if you can back up your expertise. For this reason, it can be a good idea to create a website showcasing your services. Use this as an opportunity to tell people about your background. If you have an interest in public speaking, you might also consider creating a few videos about your services. Who have you helped? What’s your story? What hurdles have you helped clients overcome? You can also share this information in a newsletter. Starting a mailing list is a great way to stay in touch with clients.
New consultants may struggle to get their first client. Starting a new venture can be frustrating, especially if you are eager to get your consulting business off the ground ASAP. If this sounds familiar, consider advising your first client for free or for a discount in exchange for a testimonial. A positive referral provides you with leverage and credibility that you can later use to expand your business and gain higher-paying clients.
What do consultants do?
Consultants can offer a wide range of services to help improve a company’s business. The term “business consultant” often conjures the idea of a professional who steps in and helps streamline business processes to make a company more efficient. But even that idea is vague. In fact, any person who is hired by a company to come in and share their expertise for even one day might be employed as a consultant.
So what can a consulting business look like? Here are a few examples:
- Streamlining operations. If you have a skill that can help make a company more efficient or make more sales, this is the category that springs to mind. Think anything to do with staffing, marketing, implementing new software, etc.
- Sharing and teaching skills. In a world where technology is advancing at a rapid rate, companies would be wise to make sure their employees’ skills are up to date. This type of consulting can also take the form of teaching a foreign language, mainly if the company works closely with staff in another office overseas.
- Providing expert services. Some companies choose to hire people with exceptional skills on a short-term basis to help them with IT services, web development, and even project management.
- Raising funds. According to entrepreneur.com, fundraising consulting is a growing industry. If you have experience in the non-profit sector, public relations, marketing or sales industries, you will be an asset to any company seeking to raise money.
- Writing speeches and creating presentations. Some companies need help creating content for their annual business meeting or a special conference. Executives who are not natural speakers may turn to a public speaking consultant to help them organize and formulate content for such an event.
Find your niche and capitalize on your strengths
No matter what your skills are, there is a way to use them to start a consulting business. This type of work will allow you to work with a variety of people, where you will always be dealing with new challenges.
How to stand out as a consultant?
If you target small businesses, keep in mind that they don’t always have the funds to invest in consulting services. That is to say, consulting services can get expensive for small operations.
Conversely, it can be a good idea to target larger companies with bigger budgets. But there’s a catch 22 here: a lot of major companies tend to work with major consulting firms.
So how do you stand out as a small consulting company that’s just starting? Indeed, small businesses might be more receptive to what you have to offer.
Offer a free consultation
One tip would be to start by offering new clients a free, one-hour interview. Use this time to identify their business needs. You can then draw up a convincing proposal showing how you intend to help them.
If applicable, show the client exactly how your skills and expertise will help their company make more money. It can be helpful to position your rate as an investment that will boost the company’s earnings.
Know your market
While smaller businesses may not have the big budgets that larger corporations have, they belong to a market that larger consulting firms tend to ignore. From this perspective, smaller consulting companies can stand out by identifying the needs that smaller businesses have, including the hurdles that come with a smaller budget. In other words, getting to know your market can provide you with a real edge when it comes to garnering success as a consultant.
Develop your public speaking skills
Finally, if you are looking to stand out in the consulting field, make sure to sharpen your public speaking skills. Depending on your niche, consulting typically involves giving a speech or presentation to a group of people at some point. This is true whether you are highlighting issues to be improved, or sharing your results at the end of the project. The more comfortable you are with public speaking, the more authoritative you will be. This skill can also help you to sell your services.
Whether a company decides to hire you to identify and fix problems, breathe new life into their operations, or supplement existing staff, working as a consultant can be extremely rewarding, because the end goal is always to help. Starting a consulting business also allows you to manage your schedule and choose dynamic environments, doing work you love.