So just what is a consultant?
Welcome to the inaugural entry in my blog!
Let’s start at the beginning — just what is a consultant, anyway? If we asked fifty people this question, we’d probably get fifty or more answers, and they would all be good.
Webster defines a consultant as “an expert who is called on for professional or technical advice or opinions.” This is a traditional view, and encompasses professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects…
This definition can also include business specialties (often considered staff positions) such as marketing, public relations, human resources, advertising, finance, regulations, operations, and more. These business areas are often the realm of “management consulting” firms.
But our focus here is going to be on small independent consultants, and how to become one. Small firms often specialize, and operate in one or more niches. For example:
- A marketing consultant might specialize in market research, web design/implementation, direct mail or writing white papers.
- A financial consultant might specialize in estate planning.
- An engineering consultant might focus on power electronics or analog design.
- A legal consultant might specialize in bankruptcies, divorces, or taxes.
- Et cetera…
Independent consultants also often specialize in markets, such as medical, computers, financial, etc. These specializations makes it easier to both establish credibility, and to target potential clients.
As a small firm, it is very difficult to be everything to everyone. If you are thinking about making a Jump to Consulting, you might begin with two simple questions:
- What special skills and experience can I sell?
- Who might pay for those skills and experience?
Its OK to have more than one niche or serve more than one market. But when you are small, you can’t be everything to everyone. So it is important to focus so you can concentrate you marketing efforts. More on that in future posts…
Finally, remember that consulting is a business! This means providing something of value to a client, and then getting paid for it.
Unfortunately, the term “consultant” has been bastardized. For example, many sales people refer to themselves as “consultants”, when they are really pitching products or services, not offering unbiased advice. And since anyone can call themselves a consultant, one may be neither an expert nor a professional in their field.
By the way, there is nothing wrong with being in sales — I spend several years as a Sales Engineer, and have high regard for sales professionals. But if you are selling something other than your own advice and expertise, you are not a consultant in my book.
Another common use of the term is applied to those between jobs. In the engineering world, we often joke that a “consultant” is just an unemployed engineer. In turns out, however, that unemployment often leads to permanent consulting. I’ve known several consultants who went that route, and have become quite successful at it.
What about variations on consultants, such as “coaches” or “counselors?” Yes, I consider them consultants too — often a special breed with special skills that focus on personal improvement. In a future post, I’ll address what I see as the subtle distinctions in these categories of consulting.
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