December 2011 Downsized
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Downsized? The secret to becoming a successful consultant

By Steve Strauss. ARCHIVE:

In this tough economy, one option people may be looking at in the new year is becoming a consultant. And that makes sense as it is a low-cost, potentially high-profit business. Essentially, there are four types of consultants:

1. Executive coaches assist clients, with a variety of business issues - everything from human resources to accounting, to time-management to success strategies.

2. Expert consultants help resolve problems within a specific area of expertise because of the consultant’s experience, training, and education.

3. Process consultants assist clients with business methodologies - creating a business plan for instance.

4. Project consultants help on a particular project, such as writing a grant or conducting a survey.

But just having a background in the industry is usually not enough to successfully hang a consultant shingle and be successful. What many consultant’s have found is that the secret ingredient, the way to increase their value to their clients and thus the amount they can charge, is to obtain extra training and get additional work-related certificates.

Think about it. Why do businesses hire consultants? Because consultants bring an expertise and perspective to the table that regular employees do not. Well, one of the best ways to increase your value to both current and prospective clients alike is to distinguish yourself by becoming even more exceptional, more invaluable. Increased training does that.

The more you can say, “I am the only person you are interviewing who . . .” the more distinctive you become, the more you can charge, and the more money you will make.

Take the case of my pal Jeremy, an executive who dropped out of MBA School many years ago to take an attractive job with a Fortune 500 firm. But after 10 years on the job, he was laid off. Jeremy then decided to become a marketing consultant, and thereafter worked for some of the same companies he had worked with earlier. But without the cache of his former employer behind him, Jeremy found that he consistently could not make enough money. So he went back to school at night and finished his MBA. While it took him two years, after it was over, he became a very highly sought-after marketing consultant.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey calls this “sharpening the saw,” and he uses this analogy: “Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

‘What are you doing?’ you ask.
‘Can’t you see?’ comes the impatient reply. ‘I’m sawing down this tree.’
‘You look exhausted!’ you exclaim.
‘How long have you been at it?’
‘Over five hours,’ he returns, ‘and I’m beat! This is hard work.’
‘Well why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?’ you inquire. ‘I’m sure it would go a lot faster.’
‘I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,’ the man says emphatically. ‘I’m too busy sawing!’

By attending adult education courses at your local community college, by attending a training and getting a certification, by going to seminars and workshops, by finishing up that degree, you are sharpening the saw. Not only will potential clients see how sharp your saw is, but they will not be surprised or dismayed (well, at least not much) when you charge commensurate fees to go along with your increased stature and value.