I had the pleasure of recently being asked to speak to the NCBiotech Jobs Network. The audience represented a wide range of positions in biotech and life sciences. The topic of the panel was: Creating Your Own Consulting Business. Haven given lots of presentations, I made an effort to minimalize the PowerPoint slides and instead focus on images and strong themes to share my message from being a successful consultant for more than 12 years. I prepared a Top 5 List in the spirit of David Letterman. Drum roll please…
#5: Engage an accountant and lawyer upfront
In this age of instantaneous DIY information, Google, and YouTube, people often think they can just figure things out for themselves. And for many things, I agree. When I am stumped or need to repair something, I google it. However, when it comes to being a consultant, you often don’t know what you don’t know. Owning your own consulting practice, even if it is a practice of one – just you, can put you personally at great risk – both legally and from a tax perspective – if you have not properly set up your business. So if you are considering working as a consultant, get some referrals from some other small business owners and meet with both an accountant and lawyer. You will be glad you did! These resources can help you navigate appropriate corporate filings, taxes, contracts, and even provide business development brainstorming at times.
#4: Be sure that you LOVE what you are doing
Can you imagine yourself spending 15+ hours a day working on the area that you want to consult in? Does that thought make you want to smile or cringe? This is important, because even when you may be billing 8 hours a day when working full time for a client, that does not include the time spent on marketing and business development, accounting, IT, other miscellaneous paperwork, etc. So, it adds up fast. If you are not that into “It,” whatever your consulting area is, then consulting around “It” may not be right for you. And just to qualify my earlier comment, don’t assume that billing 8 hours a day is a norm for many consultants. In fact, consulting typically is filled with hills and valleys. One month, you may be pretty booked up, billing many hours, while other months, may have little to no business. That is the nature of much consulting. So while consulting has many benefits, if you are used to a consistent and steady paycheck, consulting may not be right for you. Depending on your personal family situation, you need to think about how you will manage those ebbs and flows, both financially and emotionally. This is another reason why you need to LOVE what you are doing.
#3: Spend time building your online profile
I am a firm believer that the “who you know” matters in business. However, I don’t know about you, but when I am going to meet someone or am looking to hire or work with someone, I check them out online. I Google them, check their LinkedIn profile, Facebook account, and Twitter feeds. One mistake that I see small consultant businesses make, and by that I mean 1-5 employee shops, is that they invest lots of efforts into their website, but do not think about the online presence of those that make up the company, including the founder/CEO. With small consulting firms, organizations are hiring you and or your partners. Do the online profiles of the key principals represent you and your company philosophies?
There is nothing like walking into a networking meeting and having multiple people come up to you and comment on the great articles that you are sharing. Engaging online is a fabulous way for you to share your position and perspective on key issues. It also provides a great conversation starter at meetings, “Hey did you see the recent piece on….” It allows for you to build credibility before you need to. Wouldn’t it be much better to walk into a meeting and have people already respect your knowledge and insights because they have followed your commentary online? In addition, many people do not leverage the online recommendations that can be set up on LinkedIn. I am not referring to endorsements, but actual references for your professional and volunteer activities. Again, why not build credibility before you try to “sell” your services? The online and social media options today, make this a very doable thing for any consultant, especially with some training and strategy, like the kind that I provide through my company, InnoVector Tech.
#2: Volunteer intentionally and sincerely
There are many organizations out there, from trade industry groups, to nonprofits serving those in need, to those helping patients and caregivers facing particular diseases. Many of these organizations can benefit from your unique skills. Most of them are lean in terms of staff and welcome volunteers with open arms. While you are sharing your talents, you are able to see and explore how those talents can be applied in perhaps some unfamiliar (not work) environments. That can help you better understand the value proposition that you offer to clients, and even identify new opportunities. One thing I have seen happen time and time again, is that by giving to others, you find yourself interacting with people that will know and appreciate you. Then when these people need a consultant or hear about a need from their colleagues, they will think of you. I have heard from many of my volunteer colleagues, “Net, if this is what you can do for a volunteer organization, I can only imagine how amazing you must be when you are working as a paid consultant for an organization.” Be aware however, that if you volunteer insincerely, this will show in the work you produce and your lack of passion for their mission. This can harm your reputation. So, to so this, you must be authentic and giving.
#1: When engaging with your clients…check your ego at the door
When you are working with your clients, recognize that you are not necessarily the most knowledgeable one in the room. Yes, you have expertise that you are brought in for, but do not underestimate the insights that your client’s employees have. Coming in as the “silver bullet” does nothing to build long-term relationships with the clients you serve. You should seek to be their partner not just a buyer-supplier arrangement. I am not suggesting that you should not be confident; however, you have to balance that with listening to and appreciating the “in-house” experiences. So does this really work? Yes, for clients that I have served, I have been able to weather funding ups and downs, change in focus, etc. because they saw me as a vital part of their team – a partner. With every client engagement I have, I am ask myself – what will I be able to learn from this client. If the answer is nothing, then I am not likely to engage with them. As with any good relationship, there is a “give and get,” and if you seek, appreciate, and foster that “give and get,” then you and your clients will be satisfied and successful!