The Five Most Common Mistakes When Trying to Become a Consultant

Nancy Anderson
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With the national unemployment rate just under 10% and the job market bleak, more and more job seekers are considering alternative ways to make a living. You may be among those who are frustrated with sending out countless resumes with little response. If you have become an expert in your field and have good credentials, you may consider becoming a consultant. The consulting business is appealing with the freedom to choose projects, have a flexible schedule, work in a home office, enjoy a “more than casual” dress code, and set your own fees with no limit to your earning power. Before you sign the lease on a pricey corner office, consider this. Only about 10% of startup consulting businesses make it past the first year. To ensure success, you must avoid the mistakes of the other 90%. Here are the top five roadblocks on the way to success:

1. Quitting your day job too soon – You may have gotten great performance reviews from your boss, or sold a few of your new gadgets to family and friends, but do you have a product or service that can go the distance? Employees have a lot of support, and are rarely the “lone ranger” on a project. Will you have (or have the resources to hire) the support you’ll need to be a superstar when you go solo? A little reality checking will save you from bankruptcy and the unemployment line.

2. Not enough money -- Before quitting, sock away the cash and free up those credit cards you’ll need for at least the first six months. Underestimating expenses is a HUGE mistake – the cost of a killer website, business cards, marketing materials, phones, insurance, memberships, business lunches; and just the basics like rent, food and transportation are always more than you expect. You may be able to convince friends and family to open their wallets, but the banks and Angel Investors will want to see some financial statements and client list.

3. Not having a plan – The “Someday” syndrome is a dangerous way to start a consulting business. “Someday we’ll have great marketing materials.” “Someday, we’ll get a better website.” “Someday, we’ll figure out how to find some clients.” Cinderella’s Prince finally did show up, but unless you’ve got a fairy godmother and some talking mice, you’ll have to set goals and specific actions steps to reach them. One goal may be to have five clients by the end of your first month in business. Your first action step towards this goal--make a list of all your professional contacts, colleagues, past employers, members of your Rotary Club, homeowners association, church or other community organization you belong to. The next action step could be to write a letter to everyone on the list introducing your business services and/or products, offering a free consultation or sample. Have at least one action step you can take immediately, then two or three others that build on the first.

4. Going it alone – No matter how brilliant, talented and determined, you’ll need the help of others to succeed. Networking builds relationships and generates referrals. Start with the local Chamber of Commerce. As a member, you have access to their member directory (with contact information), networking events, workshops, speaking opportunities, projects, leads, etc. Toastmasters International attracts professional people, consultants, business owners and others. You can make some great contacts and improve your public speaking and organizational skills at the same time.

5. Poor Communication Skills – Consulting is communicating. From the content on your website, emails, client meetings, blogs, written proposals, negotiations, and through the end of the project, your communication skills need to work for you. That means boring stuff like punctuation, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and knowledge of your industry’s terminology. You can’t WOW a prospect with a proposal full of grammar and spelling errors, or no sense of composition or business language. Spell check isn’t enough. Buy a good dictionary and a copy of Strunk and White’s, “The Elements of Style.” Investing in a coach or taking a business course can jumpstart the education process.

Ignorance is not bliss in business or life. Avoiding the “Top Five” will help you avoid the mine fields on your journey to become a consultant.

By: Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR,

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