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Starting a Consulting Practice

What is a Consultant? by RichGeoffroy
Posted: 18 May 04 (Edited 27 Sep 04)

Rich Geoffroy
Polymer Services Group

A consultant is a person who has some unique, not-easily-obtained skill which is usually only developed through years of study and/or experience.

A consultant is no different from a doctor, lawyer, car repairman, interior designer, electrician, or house painter.  Each of these professionals provides very specific skills for specialized needs by consumers.  In each case, the customer or client comes to them with a specific problem or task which the client cannot resolve without the specialized knowledge of the ôconsultantö, for which the consultant is compensated for providing that service.

There are two types of consultants --- internal and external.  Many of you may already be consultants and donÆt realize it.  Internal consultants are those unique individuals who are proficient in their profession, and to whom many people from within the company come for specific information or help in resolving particular issues.  They are employees of the company.  He or she is paid a salary plus benefits, and is kept on the payroll to provide his specialized knowledge solely to the company.  An external consultant, on the other hand, is an independent contractor who is not employed by his client or customer, but is paid to provide a specific task, and his involvement with his client ends with the completion of the task.

An external consultant is willing to provide that service at some hourly or daily rate to those who need it.  He is an independent entrepreneur and businessman.  His real asset is not solely his technical proficiency, but also his ability to identify clients who need his particular expertise, and provide it to them.  The successful independent consultant is an entrepreneur, businessman, marketing person, salesman and sometimes confidant as well as a competent technical person.

It is not good enough to be technically competent.  The independent consultant must be a people person.  He must be able to work well with people; provide reasonable assurance that he can resolve the clientÆs problem; be confident without arrogance; and able to communicate at all levels within the client company --- from the assembler on the floor to the CEO upstairs.  

Not everyone is cut out for this job.  There are many good technical people who can solve problems --- but for one reason or another, they are not cut out to be a consultant.  They may lack the ability to interrelate well with people.  They may not be proficient at selling or marketing, or they may simply lack the self confidence to go out and expose themselves to situations in which they might fail.  For whatever reason, there are far more opportunities for consultants than there are people willing to take on the challenge.

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