Mark Amtower

COMMENTARY

So you want to be a consultant? 5 tips for your survival

Over the years several people have come up to me at various events and said something like, “I can do what you do.” Usually I simply respond, “Go for it.”

If they do go for it, and they are good at what they do, I may advise them on how to set up a consulting business, properly price their services and advertise themselves. I even started a formal six-month program for this purpose.

However, most will not survive as a solo consultant. You need to be a big self-motivator, be able to work by yourself, endure dry (no $) spells, know what business to turn down and what to accept, know how to position yourself in the market and more.

And you need to define this expertise in a way that resonates with the market niche that may require your help. Many of those in transition find themselves in the role of consultant, often in a default mode and often what they hope will be a temporary situation.

Regardless, if you find yourself bearing the title “consultant,” here are five tips to get you going.

First and foremost, know your strengths and your limitations, and be painfully honest with yourself as you write these down. Please notice I said “write these down.” Writing down your strengths and weaknesses reinforces them in your mind. You aren’t going to share them with anyone so being honest with yourself should be easier. And remember, weaknesses need not be permanent.

Are your strengths something someone or some company will pay an outside consultant for? You are looking to pinpoint a specific area of expertise where you excel. You need to define this expertise in a way that resonates with the market niche that may require your help.

Second, define the niche that needs what you do. You may offer a service that smaller contractors require as they don’t currently have the infrastructure or pipeline to support having that skill internally.

Your service may appeal to specific job function areas (business development, audits, marketing, back office, contract management, factoring, specialized insurance and the like). In all likelihood you can start to define your niche in terms of company size and functional area. If you can differentiate further, perhaps a regional/geographic focus, do so.

Third, establish your credentials. You will need a web site and a strong LinkedIn profile. Both should share how you developed this area of expertise and highlight anything that makes you special.

A big part of establishing credentials is content. Your content should be designed to showcase your expertise, an educated point of view about your niche. It can include commentary on current market events, regulations shaping your niche, tips and tactics and more.

Fourth, know who to pitch in an organization. The smaller the company, the higher up you should pitch. In the late 1980s I was sharing a problem I was having with another marketing friend. This one marketing guy would attend my seminars but never ask me to come over to his company headquarters to discuss what they were doing.

My friend laughed at me and said “You should be talking directly to the CEO, not the marketing guy.” Within a few weeks I had a lunch meeting with Dendy Young, CEO of Falcon Microsystems, and we’ve been good friends ever since.

Fifth, if you are in the consulting biz to stay, be prepared to morph. When I started my company in 1985 I became an expert in direct marketing to the government- snail mail. I’ve adapted and morphed several times in the past 35 years, through the launch of the web, the initial confusion over email marketing, the evolution of web 2.0 and finally the creation and deployment of social networks.

At each step along the way as a marketing professional I have had to adapt and adopt. Push your boundaries, but not on someone else’s dime.

Becoming a consultant isn’t as simple as adding a line to your LinkedIn profile, though some think so.

Only accept assignments when you can add value. If you are asked to do something that is not an area of strength, pass. Recommend someone you know, trust, and who is quite good at what the customer needs. Doing so will bolster your value in return.

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