Many IT professionals end up in a consulting career largely due to outsourcing, layoffs, and rapid changes in technology.
The same holds true for other industries such as banking, manufacturing, customer service, and many others. With rapidly depleting jobs available to domestic workers, the logical step is to move into the consulting sector.
In many cases, this transition is welcomed: Less direct oversight, lower stress, and possibly a better balance in work-home. Downsides exist of course: Obtaining and retaining clients, collecting monies owed from clients, and paperwork required of homepreneurs, solopreneurs or small business concerns.
Below are 8 steps (excepted from a blog by Kamala Puram) to help you transition:
1. Don’t disclose your rates until you understand the scope of the engagement
“I recently got a call from a client seeking help with an offshore outsourcing project. The client gave me a one-minute overview of her company’s needs and asked me to provide my billing rates. I told the client that I was interested in their project but was not ready to discuss rates until I had a better understanding of what she was looking for.”
The lesson is to learn first what the client needs before locking oneself into a rate. In this part of the sales and negotiation process, you are playing the sales role and must convince the client that they will receive good value for your charges.
2. Don’t overbid
“Don’t start with a bid for a prospective client’s work that’s too high because you could lose the opportunity, not to mention your credibility in the market. Start with a rate that you think is fair and competitive and stick with it. Clients respect that approach more than when a consultant starts high and comes down to meet their needs. I know I got turned off when I was a full-time IT executive procuring services from consultants whose rates seemed astronomical to me.”
Do homework on going market rates by asking other consultants, checking job boards such as Dice, CareerBuilder, Monster, and Elance. Be aware that rates will vary by region and speciality. Management consulting rates can go as high as a couple hundred dollars per hour for independents. Corporate consulting firms often charge considerably more due to high overheads.
3. Understand your clients’ expectations
“Ask a lot of open-ended questions early on when you’re just getting to know the prospective client and before you’ve even agreed to do business. I always ask the following questions:
What is your end goal? How will you know when you’ve achieved that goal?
The client’s answer to these questions will help you understand what needs to be done and how you are going to be measured and evaluated.”
It is also important to know about work completed thus far and whether any obstacles exist from achieving the end goal. These challenges may be exceed your skill set and require additional or other resources.
Finally, understand the deliverables. Knowing the end results will help the consultant focus efforts and scope of engagement. It is difficult, if not impossible to achieve the goal without knowing what is expected in advance. Don’t waste the client’s time and money by spinning your wheels and performing needless work. This is likely to result in termination of work and will not result in repeat work or recommendations to other potential clients.
4. Don’t take on a project you can’t handle
“If you doubt you possess the right skill set to do the job, don’t take the engagement no matter how desperate you may be for work.
Tell the client that the project is not right for you. It’s better to be honest with yourself and say no to a client than to take on a project that’s more than you can handle. Biting off more than you can chew will place an enormous amount of stress on you, and the risk of project failure will be high. You don’t want to take on a project that you won’t be able to complete successfully and that won’t result in a good recommendation from the client.”
No shame exists in indicating that a particular task or project is either outside of your skills or conflicts with other work. Recommending an individual or firm more suited for the task will win points with the client while maintaining your positive reputation in the industry.
5. Don’t expect a red carpet on your first day
“When you become a consultant, you have to say goodbye to executive trappings and hello to humility. You can’t have any expectations as to how you will be treated within the organisation: Some companies will give you a private workspace; others will give you a shared workspace. If you have to share an office or get stuck in a cubicle, don’t get hung up on it. Stay focused on what you need to accomplish – not on whether your workspace connotes status.”
To the client you are now just another resource – albeit a valued one – much like office equipment, wall decorations, and water coolers. Each has a certain function or inherent value, but none should expect preferential or unique treatment.
6. Don’t pull rank
“Consultants have to convince others to get work done since they lack the organizational power and authority that full-time, onsite managers can use to effect change and motivate people.
Pulling rank or acting like a know-it-all won’t help your cause. I’ve found that the most effective way for me to get employees to follow my lead – whether as a consultant or executive – is to involve them in decision making. Early on in the engagement, I typically hold a meeting with an open agenda during which I discuss the reasons why I was brought in and what I’m planning to do.”
Understand that though you may have been an executive at one time, as a consultant the client has no vested interest. You are no longer the one in charge, calling the shots, and responsible for employee discipline. Your role as a consultant is to complete – as effectively as possible – the signed contract, not to tell employees how they are being inefficient and unproductive.
7. Avoid practical ideas
“As a consultant, your clients consider you a managerial David Copperfield, pulling rabbits out of a hat just when they think they’ve exhausted all their options.
They expect nothing less than great magic from you – that is, game-changing recommendations that will allow them to improve customer service, increase revenue or cut costs. Don’t feel you have to come up with realistic suggestions. They’re paying you to think outside the box, so let your creativity run wild. Your role is to suggest the best option, and that’s not always the most realistic one.”
8. Brand yourself
“Talk is cheap in the consulting world. You have to start building a brand. You are the knowledge worker who has to sell your services and demonstrate how you can add value. You have to be perceived as an expert with a specific skill set that is not available in your client’s organization. Branding will help you create a unique identity that distinguishes you from the legions of other independent consultants.
You can build your brand by:
Writing articles in your area of expertise
Taking up speaking engagements, which will help you build your network and exposure
Writing a book to give you instant credibility
Creating and regularly maintaining a blog
Developing professional networks on the topics in which you specialize
Doing the best at every engagement (reputation is very important).
Don’t focus these efforts too much on making money. The purpose of these activities is to get you exposure. The money will then follow.”
Consulting is not a career for everyone. Multiple skills are required, discipline is key, a solid contact network is a must, and some luck must fall your way. If you are ready to accept this challenge, read and re-read the above list before making your final decision. Before you start at the first client, review this list one more time. Its advice will serve you well.
Edited by Dion D. Shaw
Dion D Shaw is the founder and owner of Homepreneurs
Kamala Puram is the president of Chrysalis International, a management consulting company. She has over 25 years of IT management experience in various industries. Her company specializes in creating technology vision and strategy, IT organizational alignment, large global ERP system implementations and IT integration (mergers and acquisitions). Puram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Excerpted from http://www.computerworlduk.com/how-to/outsourcing/869/eight-steps-to-becoming-an-independent-consultant/?pn=4
Homepreneurs does not endorse nor have any relationships with any of the services listed. Homepreneurs receives no compensation or consideration for its suggestions. Homepreneurs strongly urges all interested parties to conduct research and accepts no responsibility for any losses incurred.
© Homepreneurs 2010 – 2012