Let’s face it, at some point, nearly all of us daydream about becoming a consultant: the freedom, the flexibility, the assumed pay increase—they all sound luxurious.
But many people never get beyond their daydreams because they have serious fears that stop them. Their hesitations touch on a predictable range of issues. We know because we have led workshops across the country for new consultants. To our initial surprise, the topics that hold people back don’t tend to focus on the most complicated issues but those that elicit the most fear.
The one that novices seem to worry about the most: What if clients don’t buy what I’m offering? Beneath this question is probably the biggest fear of all – the fear of failure.
So how can you address this question and quell that underlying fear in the process? By really dialing in on your market. We recently had the opportunity to interview several novice consultants who had their business dreams dashed. They abandoned consulting after a year or less in business. What was their big mistake? Unfortunately, it was a common one that many novice consultants make.
They started off with a service that they wanted to provide. A service that they were really excited about. They fell in love with their service and then tried to push it onto the marketplace. Unfortunately, the marketplace didn’t share their enthusiasm.
Can you spot the problem? They started with the service first rather than the client and their needs.
So, how can you avoid the mistake that these now-former consultants made? Let’s boil it down to some top-level tips that you can use right now.
Step 1 – GENERATE
Begin by writing down all of your service ideas. Then, describe one preferred service and the problem it solves. Make it as vivid as possible, but brief—a half page or less will do. You can repeat the process later for the others topics. Here’s a helpful outline:
- This service is for _______ (Identify the specific person or entity that needs the service – your target client)
- Who is experiencing ________ (What’s the specific problem that your target client is experiencing and that this service addresses?)
- I help them do/be/have ________ (What’s the transformation that your target client will experience? Another way to ask this is, what will your client take away at the end of your engagement?)
- So that ________ (What’s the happy ending, or how have the future prospects changed for your client after this service?)
STEP 2 – VALIDATE
Look at how you responded to the first two bullets above. Now, comb through your list of professional contacts and see who might match those criteria. Strive for at least five people, but ten would be better. Set up appointments with them, preferably face-to-face.
Here’s how you might structure those conversations:
- I’m thinking about starting a consulting practice…
- And here are the kinds of services that I have in mind…
- Specifically, I’m thinking about offering [this service] and here’s who I think will benefit and how…
- Can I get your reaction to that – and I’m hoping you’ll be really candid with me.
- What’s your sense of the market for that service? Is it crowded? Is there something missing in the marketplace around this service?
- Do you know folks who could benefit from that service?
You’re not “telling and selling” at this point; rather, you’re sending up trial balloons to discuss with an experienced colleague. But of course, if your contact is really positive about the service idea and say they are interested, ask if you can give them a proposal.
STEP 3 – DESIGN
Assuming that you have some validated ideas, you’re ready to refine your solutions and flesh out your offer. Or, if after these meetings, you realize it’s time to go back to the drawing board, there’s no harm in cycling back through Steps 1 and 2. It’s all about research and development at this stage.
STEP 4 - TEST
Now you want to offer your services to an actual client or two. This test can be a useful step before you finalize your marketing collaterals and launch your marketing efforts to a broader audience.
Your early client(s) can provide you with all-important testimonials for your marketing materials.
STEP 5 - ROLL OUT & REFINE
The final step in the process is to iterate, iterate, iterate.
There you have it. In five steps, you can turn a cluster of ideas into marketable solutions that will provide the foundation for your consulting practice. This sort of deliberate process will make that fear melt away and build your confidence that you’re actually building a sustainable business.
Want to know the answers to other common questions new consultants ask, and additional tips on how to develop your list of services? Join us for a webinar on October 25 on “How To Start a Consulting Business: Five Questions You Must Answer.” Participants will receive our guide, Sharing Your Expertise When You’re Just Starting Out, as well as some checklists—and get a chance to ask some questions of your own. Join us, and learn how to turn your nonprofit experience into a consulting career.