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7 Types of Experience You Need to Launch a Consulting Business

 

Launching and managing your own consulting business is a dream for millions of people. As a business, it’s relatively easy to start; because you’ll be selling your personal expertise, you probably won’t need much in terms of an initial office, nor will you have many overhead expenses. On top of that, you’ll have complete control over how your business runs, dictating your own hours, your own clients, and how you approach consulting.

However, you need significant experience before you can expect a consulting business to be successful—and not just in your field of choice.

The Necessary Experience

Make sure you have experience in these areas, at a minimum, before you draft a business plan for your company:

  1. Industry or departmental specialty. For starters, you’ll need experience in whichever industry or department you’re trying to target. For example, it’s hard to land a client for your marketing consulting business if you’ve never worked in marketing before. This is important to demonstrate your authority and expertise to new clients, but is also valuable for networking purposes. Starting a consulting business with a large network of contacts can help you earn initial clients and build momentum for your brand.
  2. Project management. Much of your consulting time will be spent managing projects in one context or another; for example, you might need to plan and launch a new advertising campaign with your client, or you might simply take on projects for your own firm. Direct project management experience is ideal, but you can also earn your credentials here by becoming PMP (project management professional) certified.
  3. Time management. Time management is essential for an effective consultant. You’ll likely bill clients by the hour, which means the hours you spend with your client need to be concise and efficient; they’ll be watching you to make sure they’re getting their money’s worth. As a business owner, you also need to be able to manage your administrative hours. Your day should be meticulously scheduled so you can accomplish all your goals without getting distracted be lesser priorities.
  4. Communication. You’ll employ your communication skills at every stage of your consulting approach. You’ll need to communicate effectively, confidently, and concisely if you want to be taken seriously and get your message across at the same time. Drafting your initial inquiry, preparing a presentation, providing direction and insights, and following up with reporting are all important here. If you’re hard to understand or if you waste too much time, people won’t want to work with you.
  5. Sales. Unless you plan on hiring sales staff, you’ll need to have some kind of experience in sales. If you take the direct approach, you’ll be networking, reaching out to cold leads, and investigating other leads to pitch your services. If you’re not capable of closing deals, you won’t be able to generate much revenue. The only real alternative is to base your business entirely on referrals (which can take a long time to develop) or focus more heavily on marketing and inbound leads.
  6. Negotiation. Negotiation is a major category of skills you’ll need, and you’ll be forced to employ them in multiple ways, depending on the nature of your firm. For starters, you’ll need to negotiate deals with your new clients; how you position yourself and what you offer will determine whether you close deals and how much revenue you generate from each deal. You may also need to negotiate with vendors on your client’s behalf to get better prices, or negotiate with contractors to get a better deal for yourself.
  7. Public speaking. Your role may also demand some degree of public speaking. In some cases, you’ll need to give a presentation to a client (or their staff). In others, you’ll need to speak in front of a board so the company can determine whether or not to enlist your service. Even if you won’t be speaking to clients directly, public speaking can be a valuable marketing opportunity for your firm as you develop the perceived authority of your personal brand.

The Importance of Differentiation

You also need to have some way of differentiating yourself if you’re going to be successful. There are hundreds of thousands of consultants currently operating, and likely thousands of consultants already competing for your ideal customers. If you want to be visible to those customers, and if you want to land more sales, you need something distinctive to separate you from the pack. Depending on your strengths, that could mean highlighting a different area of expertise, reducing your prices, or targeting a different demographic. As long as you have something to get an edge over the competition, you’ll have a good chance of being successful.

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