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Start-Ups

How to Get Started as a Consultant

By Barbara Beauregard   |    May 6, 2015   |    9:17 AM

Consultants are often misunderstood. People outside of the orbit of niche consulting often think of consultants as jet-setting experts who have trained for years to become one of the leading experts in their field. The simple truth is that a consultant's job is simply to consult: to analyze a situation, offer advice, bring in outside resources, and help the client to make a plan to do better. It's that simple. There is no magic equation that makes one consultant smarter or more successful than another one.

What separates a good consultant from a poor consultant is ambition, a drive to help others succeed, and a base of knowledge about the subject he or she is consulting in. Whether it's accounting, editorial services, marketing or corporate social responsibility, what matters is a consultant's ability to help and an agile, nimble approach to using resources and support in an intelligent way. Here's how to get started.

Do your research: There are really two phases to performing due diligence in advance of launching a career consulting for clients. The first phase is finding your niche as a consultant. Companies will turn to name brand firms for general business management and strategy, but they recognize that specialized projects require a unique perspective and expertise. There's a reason why Nate Silver, the founder of FiveThirtyEight, is the most sought-after election analyst in the country. It's because his predictions are right. It's in your best interest to unearth a subject in which you offer a truly unique point-of-view and expertise that is difficult to develop internally.

The second phase of due diligence is simply setting up shop. But don't be fooled into thinking that your consultancy needs to look like the hackneyed cliché of an office with a secretary, a meeting room, and your name etched into a glass door. Today's consultants use technology to their advantage and they're as likely to do business from a smartphone on the metro as they are to dress up for meetings. Many use on-demand offices that can quickly be made fully functional simply by plugging in a laptop and utilizing the amenities offered by pop-up offices. Others use virtual assistants to make sure phone calls are answered, messages delivered, and appointments scheduled, all for a fraction of what a consultant's time is worth. Many volunteer centers and corporate social responsibility consultants help multi-million dollar companies all over the country set up volunteer projects for hundreds or thousands of employees, all planned using email, cloud-based planning, and meetings in coffee shops. Use technology, social media and advanced resources to your advantage, creating the impression of a cool, collected, and agile consultant.

Get connected: Now that you're ready to work, it's time to put yourself out there. Use business networking sites like LinkedIn to establish your network of contacts and start exposing yourself to potential clients. Growing your network is essential. Even if your contacts don't become clients immediately, they'll still be your best source of new clients: referrals. Other ways to get those early jobs include registered with local nonprofit associations, chambers of commerce, and agencies with a consultant staffing or referral service.

Build a portfolio: Demonstrating your value as a consultant is all about success stories. Don't be afraid to blow your own horn or share your expertise. A website can serve as an online portfolio of your body of work, professional accomplishments and testimonials from satisfied clients. But you can also share your expertise by writing blog posts, curating an industry news feed via social media, or writing guest posts on LinkedIn and other professional networking sites.

The wide world of consulting provides a great opportunity to spread your wings within your field and find new ways of making money, helping other professionals and firms, and generate success.