An independent consultant is an experienced professional who provides expert knowledge to clients for a fee. If you have gained a good level of expertise in your particular industry or sector then you may well have valuable knowledge and skills that other companies are prepared to buy in from you.
Consultancy can be a career choice or a stepping stone if you’re between jobs. While independent consultants tend to be solo workers, it can also be a high-growth business model if you’re able to package your knowledge as a training resource, manual or toolkit, or by using technology.
The advantages of consultancy are that you are your own boss and that each task is clearly contracted, so you’re not at the whim of office politics. You can focus on the job and do it in your own space and manner. You have a high degree of autonomy. On the flip side, you may not have colleagues, which can feel isolating, and if you don’t account for employee-type benefits such as sick and holiday pay and a pension fund, you won’t have them.
If that balance sounds enticing, then read on and find out what is involved.
Gain experience and think niche
Expert-level experience is essential for a career in consulting. If you are serious about starting a consulting business you will need to find a way of first building a track record. You can’t provide consultancy solely based on your knowledge; you need to have field experience for better understanding. Whatever you have been doing for a job, think about what elements could be valuable to other businesses in your sector? In some cases it will be directly related to your role, for example: for example hospitality and hotel management, accountancy, engineering. Or you may be able to focus on an element of your role, for example, vegan food menus, accounting for non-profits, and food-factory engineering. The more niche you can position your consultancy offering the more attractive and valuable you will be to your target audience.
Polish your credentials
You will need the appropriate credentials depending on the focus of your consulting niche. If your consultancy is in a professional area, like architecture, accountancy or ecological management, then you will need the relevant professional qualifications.
However, in many other fields, experience and reputation is much more important than qualifications, for example event management, specialist photography etc. In those areas qualifications may be useful but ultimately clients will be more interested in your track record.
Your most important credentials in any type of consultancy will be testimonials and references from previous clients and showcases of the work you have done. To build your track record you can use work that you have done as an employee or also pro-bono work that you do to get established.
Build a network and work on your people skills
Networking is the number one method of marketing for consultants. People like to work with people they know and like. In fact to be a successful consultant your interpersonal skills are as important as your technical expertise. The ability to listen and communicate well is essential.
In addition, consultants often work with associates to bid for larger jobs so it helps to have a good network of other consultants in your field who you may be able to combine forces with from time to time. Networking around industry events and meetings is also a great way of keeping up to speed with intelligence in your area. So networking is a win-win-win.
Expert knowledge, solid credentials, and great interpersonal skills are the necessary foundations for success in independent consulting. Beyond that, you will need to operate as a small business; you can read our guide to setting up your business here.