12 Most Eye-Opening Things to Know About Starting a Consulting Practice
When the work-a-day grind has ground you down, becoming a consultant can sound alluring, or at least tempting: controlling your schedule, choosing your clients and projects, not to mention, directly reaping the economic benefits of a good year.
Consulting has its upsides, no question. I launched my company after resigning from the editorial page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer with a generous buyout, in late 2008, when the newspaper industry was in a nosedive. And there are many things I wished I had known then, including…
1. You still need colleagues, but you must go find them yourself
Humans are social animals. And if you were accustomed to being surrounded by a bevy of smart coworkers who you could trade ideas with and learn from, you will miss that terribly when out on your own. Invest the time and energy to reshape a team that can offer mutual professional support, when needed.
2. Much of your new team will be virtual
You can find pure inspiration online. The experts and other consultants doing it right are tweeting, blogging, hosting Tweetchats, webinars and on-location training. A new mentor might be 12 time zones away. That’s okay.
3. You must pay for a ton of talent that cost you nothing before
As a reporter and editor, I was spoiled with access to graphic artists, photographers, videographers, training on new programs and IT support. The guys in the mailroom handled anything that needed to go out, and administrative staff offered untold support and payroll came through every other week, like clockwork. Now, I pay for all of that.
4. Many days, you’ll question yourself
I knew this would happen. After all, I started my business during the Great Recession. Still — just a caution — it might happen more frequently than expected. One response is to write out why you are doing this work, what your talents are and how you give clients a return on their investment. It’s helpful to have a reminder on those shaky days.
5. Professional marketing materials matter, a lot, and will set you apart
Too many consultants lack a well done website or a folder with crisp information to leave with prospects showing they can really do what they say they do. If you don’t have them — or if you do have flimsy business cards — people will notice.
6. It will likely take you longer than you figured to make a profit
Start-up costs are significant: computer and office equipment, marketing materials, phone and Internet accounts, professional development and training. At first, I underestimated how much I’d need to take in to come out ahead.
7. You’re never really off duty
If you’re open to them, leads for business and clients can be found almost anywhere. Be a connector, not a networker. And follow up if, through a chance meeting or introduction, you encounter someone whose ideas and work you admire. That has paid off for me, repeatedly.
8. You’ll learn so much, so quickly, it’s astounding
I am getting my Masters degree now. But I am learning more through this business than in my relevant, and riveting, graduate classes.
9. Much of what you learn will come from your mistakes
I sniff out, much better now, situations that aren’t going to lead to great outcomes. And sadly, that’s unfortunately because of bungles. (And I’m still making plenty of mistakes.)
10. This might take much more persistence and self promotion than you expected
And definitely more than some other consultants I asked confessed to! You need an informal and encouraging, but knowledgeable group of advisors who can give astute, affirming counsel. Also, seek top-notch professional development for credible, efficient guidance, so your efforts are targeted and on track.
11. Good consultants are valued as true external experts
My counsel, analysis and recommendations have helped clients get real results. And they appreciate it. Tell me so. And pay for it.
12. Don’t shortchange your value
Know and respect what your work enables and the value it adds. Offering occasional pro bono work is fine, to nonprofit groups, but send an invoice that’s zeroed out to reflect the investment you would’ve charged a corporate client.
If I had to do it all over again, yes, I would launch a consulting practice. The benefits are many. (That’s another post!) But the reality was, and is, different than I had imagined and prepared for. What aspect about entrepreneurship or self-employment did you find most eye-opening?
Featured image courtesy of paul (dex) via Creative Commons.