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Starting a Consulting Practice

So, You're Thinking about becoming a Consultant? by RichGeoffroy
Posted: 14 May 04 (Edited 27 Sep 04)

Rich Geoffroy
Polymer Services Group

The thought of becoming a consultant conjures up a somewhat romantic view of a professorial person who has all of the answers to clientsÆ questions right at the tip of his tongue, is held in high esteem by his colleagues, and makes wads of money for what appears to be little effort.  And while all of this may be true to some extent, the description does not accurately capture the true character of the consultant.

A consultant is first and foremost an entrepreneur.  He is a risk-taker, a businessman, and a competent professional who is aware of his personal strengths and knows how to use them to satisfy the needs of his clients.  For those individuals who have developed unique, marketable talents, know how to sell their services, and have good business sense and a personable approach to dealing with people, being a consultant can be the most rewarding profession they have ever had.  Rewarding not only in the monetary sense because consultants do command a handsome fee for their services, but more on the professional level, knowing that you have been able to solve some difficult problem for a client, sometimes with relative ease.

Sound good?  Well, donÆt get carried away.  Being a consultant is not for everybody.  It takes more than just being good in your field to be a consultant.  In fact, most likely the ôbestö people in any technical field are probably not the type of people to become consultants.  Generally, people who are strong in one particular area, are deficient in other areas which are required to become a successful consultant.

So, what does it take to be a good consultant?  The successful consultant must be:

       ò    Professionally competent
       ò    Able to deal personably with clients
       ò    Capable of making sound business decisions
       ò    Good communicator, writer, and orator
       ò    Proficient salesman and marketer

Without all of these ôtoolsö, the professional consulting practice is doomed to failure.

Before you quit your job to hang up your shingle, ask yourself a few questions.

       ò    Do I enjoy sales and marketing?
       ò    Do I work well under a tight deadline?
       ò    Can I manage other people or even other consultants?
       ò    Do I understand the basics of financing and running a business?
       ò    Can I soothe an irate client?
       ò    Will my spouse and family support my decision to operate my own practice when things get rough?
       ò    Do I have the intestinal fortitude to turn down business because itÆs outside my area of expertise?

The answers to these and many other challenging questions must be, ôYesö or else starting a consulting practice is not for you.

So if you are an entrepreneurial person who excels in an area of technical expertise and enjoys the challenges of working with people to solve their most difficult problems under tight deadlines, starting your own consulting practice may be the right move for you.  For all others, keep your day job!

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