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So you Want to Be a Consultant?

By Guest Author

Today’s guest post is written by veteran consultant, Rebel Brown of People Who Know. She gives us some first hand advice on how to get into consulting.  Rebel Brown is a go-to-market strategist specializing in early stage and turnaround high technology clients.
>> Read Rebel’s full bio here

I’ve been consulting successfully for over 20 years now. That makes me an old-timer in many folks’ perceptions. Friends and associates often come to me for advice on how to start their own consulting business – mostly around how to position themselves as an expert in the market.

Here’s the advice I give:

  • Focus. The first inclination for any new consultant is to try to ‘do it all’. After all, you’ve dabbled in a number of different aspects of your field, right? Wrong. In my experience, the best way to be successful is to focus first on a narrow set of skills and areas where you can add the most value. You need to evidence your experience and success in a few key areas to get started. So focus on the areas where you’re strongest and most well-known by associates and peers – where you can have the most compelling references. You can always expand over time.
  • Evidence your abilities. Thumping your own chest is something you can do after you’re well established. And even then – you have to be careful. No one likes an ego. Gather references and quotes from your peers, managers, customers and partners you’ve worked with in past roles. The best evidence you can provide is references from others. Feature these references prominently on your website – and let others speak your praises. Also, offer some examples in short case studies about what you’ve done in your areas of focus – and the results you’ve seen. Just as in selling a product, your potential clients get a better understanding of what you do based on real world scenarios of how you’ve helped people just like them!
  • Anti-up. When I first started my consulting business, I offered prospective clients a free day of consulting, so they could get to know me and have a better idea of what I could do for them. They loved that idea – who can turn down free advice? It gave me the chance to share my experience, style and insights. It also demonstrated that I was confident in my abilities – enough so to put my own value, my time, on the line to prove it.
  • Don’t get greedy. When you’re first starting out – you can’t nickel and dime your clients. Actually, you can NEVER do that. But until you prove yourself – you can’t charge top dollar and you can’t charge for every minute of your time. Just for reference, I still don’t do that – and my clients respect me for it. I charge for value and not for hours. My clients appreciate it and I believe that I get follow on business because of it. You will too. Here’s an example of what not to do or think. I was chatting with a friend who wants to start a consultancy. Her first prospect was in a market she didn’t know that well – so she wanted to know how much she should charge for ‘learning’ their space. When I told her “nothing” she pushed back. She had to invest her time so she should be paid. Right? Wrong. Why should a client pay her for learning a market when she’s supposed to be the expert? And besides, once she learns that market – she can leverage that knowledge going forward in other avenues. Make a WIN/WIN your priority and not your bank account. You’ll be much more successful.
  • Learn to say no. The worst thing that can happen to a new consultant is to have a failed project. Actually, it’s the worst possibility at any stage of your business. I’ve seen so many young and eager consultants take on projects where they didn’t have a clue about the work – just to get the business. Don’t do this! Be honest and tell someone if you don’t have the expertise. Better yet – pass them along to someone who does. The prospect will remember you for it, and in a positive light. When the next opportunity comes along – they’ll come back to you again, and again, and again.

I love consulting – I’m passionate about my business. But I’m more passionate about my clients and doing what’s right by them. My final piece of advice to any consultant? Focus on what’s best for your client, over-deliver and make their success your priority. Your own success will follow.

3 thoughts on “So you Want to Be a Consultant?

  1. – I have just started my consultancy work, actually in June of 2009 and the advice are just fitting to the path which I have just started. In fact I’m so grateful for such timely discussions and indeed I would like to be included in this regard as a means of learning for me.

  2. Hi Kalisiana: There are many things to think about when becoming a consultant…follow Rebel’s advice in this article and you’ll be off to a great start.

  3. Great article and concepts I agree with as someone who decided to set up my own business and IT consultancy ( in recent months. As someone who has ‘consumed’ consultancy services over a 20 year period, a customer with a bad experience has a viral effect potentially. I apprecaite Rebel sharing her experiences and advice.

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