How to become a consultant
Consultants answer questions. They often go farther than providing simple answers. They specialize in problem
solving and developing a plan of action.
Are you a problem solver? This article is about being consultant; it may inspire you to a new career.
So… Question: What kind of problems am I talking about? Answer: Any problem, situation, or change you can think of—everything from improving an industrial safety program to where each flower should be planted in your garden.
People are looking for direction or affirmation for anything and everything you can think of.
OK, most of us aren’t qualified to give recommendations for rewiring a dam. Most of us don’t possess the knowledge to work in the N.A.S.A. space program. BUT… Every one of us is an expert on something. Every one of us has the potential to use that expertise to help others and to make money doing it—to be a consultant. Find that thing you know more than a little something about and put your knowledge to work for you.
I know a girl that calls herself a stay-at-home mom. She designs flower beds too. (She calls it her “hustle.”) Her father was landscape artist. She grew up learning from him. She doesn’t have a degree or even a certificate in horticulture, but she has more practical experience than many who do.
I work with a guy people consult when they want to buy a used car. His “day job” (He works at night.) has nothing to do with cars. Away from work, cars are what he lives and breathes. He’s constantly researching cars—reading about them and in discussions on the internet. He’s got a great garage—equipped with all the tools he needs to rebuild an engine, do body work, etc. (He does some paid repair work, but mostly it’s his hobby.) For a price he’ll go with you to look at the car you’re interested in, and tell you what to expect of it. He took an automotive class in high school years ago, and cars became a passion he’s built on.
My wife has a friend with a real knack for decorating. She used to stage houses for a couple of her friends who are realtors. (Staging can help potential buyers see the possibilities in a room. It can help sell a house.) She did this for fun—for free. Then, she started getting calls for help from friends of her friends. Eventually, she realized she could charge for her services. To give herself more professional credibility, she took some classes at a community college and earned a certificate in interior decorating. She certainly isn’t called on every day, but on occasion she earns some extra money.
The three examples above are profitable side hustles for those people, and they make money off them. I’m sure you have knowledge or a talent that people take advantage of. Why don’t you profit from it? Find something that you would do anyway and begin charging to do it. It can be a part-time hustle, but some people build it into a career. Part-time or full-time—either way—being a consultant can improve you finances.
Below are some things to consider as you think about becoming a consultant.
Step 1: Your niche
Figure out what your marketable strength is. Asking yourself a few questions can help with this: What topic or life-skill do you understand best? Have you received extensive, in-depth training in something? Has the school-of-life given you a “good” education? Have you successfully worked your ways through certain crises (perhaps more than once)? Do others benefit from your knowledge and experience? Could they? Is there a market for it? (Note: If nobody knows that you possess a wealth of information and talent, it’s time you (1) become more sociable, and (2) start a self-promotion project.) Another thing to consider is compartmentalizing what you have to offer. People often seek help in steps or stages. In fact, if you are helping someone, a blanket solution might be overwhelming. (Levels of service will be a contributing factor when you determine what you will charge for your services—more about that later.)
Step 2: Certifications and licenses
It’s not unusual for the state or federal government to require that consultants in a number of fields be certified or licensed—especially if health or safety issues are involved. Even if your niche doesn’t require certification or licensing, having them says, “I know my stuff.” They are helpful in affirming your credibility as a consultant to perspective customers. And, since they have to be renewed periodically, you tend to “keep up on your stuff.” Note: I am not saying that (except, perhaps, in a legal sense) a piece of paper counts for more than experience. After all, my first example above was a young woman who learned from her dad, but (and it’s a big but) when she started her own yard design consultation work, she was able to trade on her dad’s reputation.
Step 3: Goals—both short and long term
Goals are important. They keep a person on track and motivated. They need to be measurable and achievable. They should be written down along with a plan and time table for accomplishing them. These need to be precisely detailed and should be reviewed often. By the way, getting rich is not a goal, making three new sales contacts a week is.
Step 4: Your target market
Determine your target market; do some research. Who would be interested in hiring you for your service? What is it they need? Be creative. Many problems have standard fixes, but consultants also need to think “outside the box.” Here’s an example: Last year (2015) an account was posted about a Westinghouse salesman who sells freezers to Eskimos. (About now, are you like me thinking, “Yeah—right.”?) Well, it turns out that traditional storage methods (basically, leaving the goods to be frozen in a secure, unheated space) work too well; it takes forever for things to thaw out. The Eskimos wanted something more user friendly. The salesman suggested refrigerators and freezers. The community has electricity, so a freezer—which gets nowhere near as cold as the air temperatures in the area—is a great solution. That guy was consulting in line with his job, but there are plenty of independent consultants, too.
Step 5: Your competition
Another area to research is competition. How many other people around you can claim the same expertise? What do they have that you don’t? (For one thing—experience as paid consultants.) How can you offer better service? Again, develop a knack for thinking creatively. If you can propose quicker, simpler, less expensive solutions, you’re advice will soon be in demand.
Step 6: Network
Build a network that helps you. You probably have a better start on this than you imagine. It’s likely friends and family have been calling on your expertise for some time. They can be a great help to you. Encourage them to promote you in their circles—work, social, etc. Then, start charging the newcomers for your services. Many successful endeavors are supported and expanded by word of mouth.
Eventually, you may find that you need a more aggressive advertising campaign. If this is the case, you’ll probably build it little by little, and if you need help there are consultants that specialize in advertising.
Step 7: Fees and billing
How much will you charge for your services? Usually, we think in terms of what we need or want. A better way would be to consider, “What price will the market support?” You have something valuable to offer, but value is always determined by the price people are willing to pay. One way to get a sense of what to charge is to call the competition and ask the price of their various services. Of course, if your competition is established, and you are just entering the field, you may need to ease into their pay-grade as your reputation grows.
Pricing brings up the question of payment. How are you going to get paid? Will you have a cash only policy? As your success grows you’ll probably have to establish a billing system (or you may opt to set one up at the beginning). If you’re not savvy in this area, you can research small business practices online or at the library. Or, consult someone who’s done it.
Step 8: Record keeping
Keep good records of service and payment. If you’re getting paid, you’re in business: Taxes will have to be paid. Also, depending on the nature of your offerings, you may want insurance. (Again, there is abundant information on what is required online or at the library.)
Then, there’s the question of where to keep your records. If consulting turns into a career, you’ll, eventually, look into an office. But, as a side hustle a notebook or folder kept with your other financial records should be sufficient.
If you are generally good at problem solving or have particular expertise and experience, you could be a consultant. Consultants answer questions, solve problems, and develop plans for businesses and private citizens. A consultant’s expertise can come from a formal education or life experience. In fact, most of us function as consultants from time to time—for free. With a plan, you could put your expertise to work for you and earn extra money.