So You Want to Be a Consultant?

As attractive as it may seem – even glamorous, perhaps – being a Consultant takes work. It’s a job. It can also be a business, a career, even a profession, depending on the attitude with which you approach the effort. And, yes, becoming a Consultant does take effort. Make no mistake about that.

What do you need to start? Something you’re good at, obviously. Well, not just “good,” but as one of my college students once put it, you have to be “gooder” than everyone else. Can you believe a college student saying that? He did. Anyway, to put it in more acceptable terms, you have to have some knowledge, skill or talent – some ability – that’s more than, greater than, better than most others in your field.

You can’t be just “an expert.” You have to be “the expert.” “An expert” gets a job, becomes an employee. “The expert,” becomes the Consultant, someone many companies willingly to pay top dollar to for what he or she knows or can accomplish.

Is there some test to determine your level of expertise, some license you must study for to earn? After all, attorneys are licensed. So too are real estate and insurance brokers. So, what about Consultant? The simple answer is, “No!” There is no license required to call yourself a “consultant.” Some communities may require that you get a business license, but no government body licenses “consultants.”

Oh, if you’re curious about why I spell Consultant differently a different times – using both upper and lower case Cs – it’s because the to me the upper case version identifies a professional, the lower case nothing more than an area of interest, a topic for discussion.

Starting out, the most difficult part of becoming a Consultant is convincing potential clients that you are “the expert.” That’s a process that begins long before you make the decision to “go it alone.” Your expertise is typically based on what you’ve done – the reputation you earned over a number of years – working in your field of interest. So while there may be no license required to become a Consultant, an often lengthy apprenticeship is usually part of the process.

Keep in mind, too, that becoming a Consultant is not a destination. It’s a process. You’re “the expert,” remember? To remain “the expert,” a Consultant must always continue learning. Certainly about his or her particular area of expertise, but also about the various areas on the fringe of that specialty. For example, if you’re specialty is marketing, you’d better make it a point to know a good deal about operations, finance, management, even law.

Being a Consultant can provide interesting as well as rewarding work. But it is a job. It still requires that you work at it every day, either working for your clients or working to find additional clients. And it always means you have to be “gooder” at what you do than anyone else if you want to grow your family of clients.