So You Want To Be a Consultant?

[Note, this is not a recommendation to moonlight, if you are already employed full-time. Always check with your company representatives if you wish to do extra commercial work on the side. As always this is my personal opinion. A rough version of this post was posted by me on Bangalore_Barcamp group on YahooGroups.]

These are hard economic times. The first instinct for many would be to huddle down and let the rude winds of economic depression pass. But the first instinct is not always right. It would be wiser to take these calamitous times head on.

Start thinking a little about what skills you could use to make a living. This is applicable even if you are employed full-time, one never knows how the situation might change in times such as these.

In this post I specifically focus on being a consultant. I define a consultant as

“An expert in a specific functional area, who can engage with customers in a time-boxed manner to deliver business value in exchange for some compensation”

As compared to a full-time employee, a consultant is always hired for a brief period of time. The payment is mostly in terms of a day rate and tied to a specific deliverable getting out as a result.

Just to set expectations consulting is harder than being an entrepreneur who sells a specific product or service. To convince someone, at least in the initial stages when without a good portfolio, about the quality of the skills you have is a challenge.

That said, its always possible to break into this circle with the right set of skills, perseverance and relationships.

And these are the steps that have to be taken, in no particular order, to prepare and enter into the world of consulting.

Skills

You might be comfortable at many tasks. But focus on what you are really good at. Which of your many skills do you propose to highlight and gain customers. Is this skill in demand? Will customers pay for it and how much?

Competition

Who are the competitors in this particular area? Are there large and small players? How have they been doing? What challenges do they face today? And how do you intend to handle them?

Portfolio

What can you show to prove your skills are not your own opinions of yourself?

What credentials can you bring to the table? Can ex-clients, colleagues vouch for you? Is your portfolio available online?

Networking

Your first and best break can come from people who already know and trust you to deliver.

Are you on social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc? Do you have recommendations from them displayed prominently, or at least viewable on demand? Are you actively reaching out to people online and offline?

Marketing

See the above point on networking. Do all those. Have a blog. Record your thoughts on it.

Let the world see what transpires in your head without them having to ask what you are up to.

Use your online presence as a means to draw attention and market yourself. Actively participate in relevant user groups online and offline. Reach out and ask people how you may help them in any way.

Differentiation

How will your contribution and ideas be different from the many hundreds competing for the same set of customers? How will you distinguish yourself in the marketplace in every aspect of running your consulting practice?

Seek to stand out in a positive way from the clutter.

Positioning

Don’t claim to have ideas to boil the ocean.

Start small and slowly expand your domain of expertise.

Slowly but surely you can build a set of people who trust you.

Legal

Get your groundwork in terms of legal entities, tax implications etc sorted.

Summary

Of course all this is just an outline, I will have more specific details to share in the coming days.

Consulting is a very satisfying and lucrative way of using your expert skills to make a living.

And it all starts by telling someone, “Hi, I am <your name here>. I do <your skill>. How may I help you?”

All the best.

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