The beauty of starting a consulting venture is also one of its largest challenges. Since consultancy can literally be on any subject, you can leverage your expertise for people that need it. However, this lack of definite avenues for a consultant also means that there is no tried-and-true structure that anyone can use.
This does not mean that any aspiring consultant should rely on trial and error. I wrote an article on the steps necessary to become a consultant, but once you've started and established yourself, there's still a lot to do and know. I'd like to delve deeper into this topic and discuss a few ways to better yourself as you gain experience as a consultant.
Set Standards For Yourself and Your Clients.
In a competitive industry that often sees freelancers fighting for jobs and attention, consultants can distinguish themselves by being reliable. Sell yourself, but don't oversell yourself. By doing this, you'll find that clients will come to see that you consistently deliver what you promise. Part of this is the little details; creating good-looking work documents and formatting them consistently can help build your reputation in the business.
Define Your Target Market Better
Like any other business, there's a target audience you're looking to reach. Defining this audience in detail is the best way to navigate potential clients and figure out which are the most ideal for you to get in touch with. Learn not only their industry and where they are located but their motivations as well. Know the value that they can gain from bringing you on as a consultant. Figure out what challenges they may face and how you can help overcome them with your skills.
Frame Problems Before Addressing Them
Just because you've been brought on as a consultant doesn't mean that you need a perfect off-the-cuff answer to everything that a business asks you. Take time to think critically about the problems they present you with. Their origins, prior solutions, and implications for the business can all affect how you approach them. Gather relevant statistics and information before sitting down and proposing possible ways of addressing a problem.
Learn To Network
Because consultants spend a lot of their time selling themselves and their abilities, a lot of the best marketing comes from word of mouth. For that to happen, learning to network is a valuable skill. When it comes to networking, don't just think about securing clients—think about how you can assist or provide value to the people you are speaking with. Everybody wants something, but being willing to solve problems can go a long way.
Go Deep, Not Wide
While knowledge of common office procedures and tools is always appreciated, it should not be the main selling point for a consultant. If you're looking to improve the services you offer, learn more about your existing areas of expertise rather than gaining new ones. If there are relevant certifications, consider gaining them. If you're in a field that changes constantly, put aside time to keep up with the latest developments and apply them to your work. Doing this can make you the "go-to" person for a company and cause them to solicit your services on a repeated basis.
About The Author: Ross Sanner is a Burlington-based education and finance professional. Ross has extensive experience working in a variety of verticals, and helps bring businesses together through his consulting firm, Think Growth. His work at the Orme School has attracted national media attention, including stories from Fox, PBS, and Bloomburg.
Ross Sanner and his wife, Casey, enjoy the outdoors and spending time with their young daughter, Logan.
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