Many mid-career professionals may take advantage of this latest Silicon Valley downturn to launch a consulting practice. Some of them find their way to the Bootstrappers Breakfast, where they are welcome. If they want to establish a consulting practice I encourage them to join organizations like PATCA and WIC as well.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal this is great article by Sarah Needleman “Creating a Consultancy Out of What You Practice” that some key things to consider as you are getting started:
- Expertise + Clients: successful consulting involves more than the ability to do the work, you also have to be able to get clients. This requires an ongoing focus on marketing and selling your services.
- Run it as a business: have a one page plan of attack (“Guerrilla Marketing for Consultants” by Michael McLaughlin and “Rainmaking” by Ford Harding are two excellent books for guidance on how to do a business and marketing plan for a consulting practice. Understand the tax implications of the various forms a business can take and if you are targeting the Fortune 500 (or Silicon Valley 150) what will be required for your firm to qualify as an approved vendor.
- Befriend your competitors. It can be a revelation to new consultants that they can both cooperate and compete with other consultants. There is a good quote from Walt Maclay, the president of PATCA, on this:
“Some get more jobs than they can handle or they get a job that’s not quite right for their expertise,” says Mr. Maclay. They may recommend you to a client, and you should reciprocate when it makes sense, he explains. You also may be able to secure referrals by joining a consulting industry trade group. Members often swap job leads with one another through email lists.
I am a member of PATCA and have attended several very educational meetings, the most recent was on payment processors. I have also found Women In Consulting (WIC) to be excellent in this regard. You can get a lot of useful help and information by joining WIC and participating in the mailing lists. Networking can be a way not only to discover new clients but to meet other consultants that you partner with for larger opportunities.
The article closes with this advice on how to spread the word.
Let everyone in your personal and professional network know about your new line of work and that you’re eager for referrals. Attend business events targeted toward executives at firms that could benefit from your services. Go to the events prepared with a 30-second commercial, advises Mr. Maclay. “You need a very good elevator speech, something that will get their attention,” he explains.
A short intro is always appreciated: stress the benefits of what you deliver and couple it with some good diagnostic questions and you can kickoff some serious conversations. In our case I say that we help startups find early customers and early revenue and I ask if they are having trouble pricing their product or looking for smarter prospects.
Update February 19, 2009: Ford Harding E-mailed me a reminder to link to his second addition of Rainmaking, called “Rainmaking Attracting New Clients No Matter What Your Field” which has 40% new material in preference to his older addition of “Rainmaking.”