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Blog post,  Business information,  Communications professional

How to become a consultant

On a semi-regular basis, someone will reach out to me and ask if I could share with them how I become a consultant. Where did I begin? How does it work? What did I need from a system, technology, support perspective? How do I find clients?

I love having these conversations because I am happy to share what I have learnt on my journey so far. I also find this funny because I feel like I am still learning so much myself.

Instead of just sharing my insights, I thought I would also asked other solopreneurs for their advice (and I got some great tips along the way!). It makes for a long article but if you are thinking about going it alone hopefully it’s helpful.

What you need to know

  • You don’t need to have all of the answers upfront. Your service offering, how much you charge, all of it can change. But you do need to know what you are going out to “sell” – potential clients are going to ask you what you do, and you need to have an answer.
  • There is a misconception that you need to be a “networker” to be able to get work. It’s not true. Most of my work comes through people I know. I meet with my contacts regularly one on one to ensure I am front of mind (Read my article on networking).
  • Spend time getting your systems right at the beginning. Taking the time to sort your finances, email, hosting, website, policies and software etc upfront. It saves you the trauma of having to establish systems when you’re in the middle of delivering a client’s work. It’s inefficient to try to retrofit. 
  • Say yes to everything! Even if you think you don’t have the confidence yet, you might surprise yourself. When I was first asked to run a team planning day, I almost said no. Instead, I decided to figure it out (and called in someone more experience to help me – thanks Mia!). Now I offer them as one of my main services.
  • One of the things I struggled with the most was what to charge – here is the secret, no one knows! Check out the market, see what others are charging (if you can), ask other consultants you trust, ask people you know in the industry you are targeting, consider what you would be willing to pay and then give it a go.
  • I got this great advice from Victoria Taylor when I first started out, and I still try to do. Make time for business development and admin every week. Put aside time to manage your project pipeline, pay bills, issue invoices, update your social media calendar. Make time to touch base with your network, via coffee, email or phone calls; complete tenders, undertake training/upskilling, publish content and read! Generally, position yourself to keep work and money rolling in.
  • Find your tribe. Join forces with others, utilise your collective skills and experience, and get the support you need. I have an amazing support network of other consultants who were always happy to listen and provide advice. We collaborate on projects and support each other when needed. For me, this has been a really important part of my success.

The practical stuff

  • You will need public liability and indemnity insurance if you are going to contract into the government. It’s a little over $1000 a year. I have $10 million public liability and $2 million professional indemnity. I got mine through BizCover which had the best rate when I was looking
  • Use the templates and resources on Business.gov.au to get you started. It is actually super helpful and will walk you through how to set up a small business.
  • Register your business name on the Australian Business Register. There are lots of businesses that offer to do it for you, but its super easy – you don’t need help.
  • Jacq Hackett was a god-sent when I first started, you will see a flavour of her on my website. I didn’t do her paid course, but her blogs and resources are so good. Plus she does a tip every Friday on LinkedIn!
  • The Women’s Collective is a really supportive Facebook Group that I have met many great people through and well worth getting involved with. Join the group, not just the page. 
  • Don’t forget to set up a listing as a Google Business – it’s a bit fiddly, but I get about 200 hits a month on my website through the listing.
  • If you decide you need a website (and you should!), you need to buy your domain name and arrange hosting. There are HEAPS of providers. I use GoDaddy for hosting as its pretty cheap and has good security. I build my website myself in wordpress. I am in no way technical and it’s not the fanciest website but it suits my needs for now.
  • Email is the key to any online business, and it needs to work reliably every day. I learnt this the hard way. I tried the webmail provided with my web host but hated it and had no end of problems. So, I went back to Outlook because it’s what I know, and it made me more confident. I purchased it as part of the Microsoft 365 suite so that I had all of the same software my clients were using.

Advice from other consultants

I am in no way the expert in this area so I asked for some of the consultants I work with on a regular basis for their piece of advice for new consultants.

“Create a service offering that you LOVE and pitch it to amazing people, that you’d love to work with.  Even if you don’t succeed at first, keep on pitching, if you really love what you’re offering and your values align with the people that you want to work with, it will happen.”  Mia Swainson, Mia Swainson Consulting. 

“Change your paradigm before you jump – My advice is before you leave where you are now, change your current paradigm from what you do now, to one where you are your own business. Look at what you do, what value you add and for whom, with the mindset of doing that (or whatever it is you are going to do next) as a service that people will pay for. Get used to the idea for a few months first.” Raphael Wood, Market Advisory Group.

“Take the leap. It’s scary at first, but the rewards are so worth it. Don’t fret too much about knowing exactly what you’re doing when you start, as it will evolve over time as you see what you like, what you don’t, what gets traction and what doesn’t. Make sure you create a network of other freelancers and entrepreneurs, as it can be a lonely journey sometimes, so gather a group around you!” Samantha Sutherland, Samantha Sutherland Consulting

“Understand client expectations are different from employer expectations. Clients are less likely to provide consultants with the flexibility to extend deadlines or accept excuses for late/incomplete work that they might extend to their teams. Therefore, you need to ensure that you can manage your workload/workflow. You are it now! No team to pick up the slack when you’re sick. No accommodating boss who might redirect resources to your team during busy periods. The temptation early on is to say yes to everything, but if that comes at the expense of quality work, delivered on time, your reputation will suffer. Be accountable for your work. Look after yourself and make sure you only take on work you can deliver.”  Victoria Taylor, Flourish Communications

The question I always get asked

Finally, almost everyone I meet asks me if I have any regrets? Am I still happy with the decision I made to go it alone?

My answer is always the same. I have never looked back. I love what I am doing. I miss having a team of people around me but getting to work from home or anywhere I want, suits me perfectly. I manage my own schedule and get to engage in a huge range of projects. I have a better work life balance and feel like I have much better control of my life. Right now, this is the right choice for me.

My final tip is this. Consulting/freelancing is hard, but it’s a different kind of hard work. It can be lots of long days and it’s hard to turn off when it’s your own business. The hardest thing, however, is the mental toll it can take. There are huge ups and downs (both financially and emotionally – often linked). You can link your self-worth and confidence to money – no money coming in can have a huge impact on your confidence and lead straight to an hour spent to Seek.com. You need to find mental strength and resilience that you have never needed before.

If you have any other questions, I would love to hear from you! Post them below and I am sure one of us can help you out.

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