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Now unless you established a practice with a few other colleagues, not only do you get to be CEO/Founder and Principal Consultant, but you are also tasked with being the VP of Sales….and probably Executive Assistant; to yourself. More often than not, it’s the latter two roles that become the consultant’s Achilles Heel. As a sole practitioner, no other title you hold matters unless you’re successful as your own head of sales. According to the US Small Business Administration, less than 50% of new private practices are able to stay open more than 5 years. To stay on the positive side of that statistic, let’s explore 3 ways I’ve seen independent consultants be successful with a pipeline of work coming in.
1. Subcontracting – Some consultants are hesitant to add an additional layer between themselves and their clients, but what is gained by doing this is that the role of VP of Sales is filled by someone from a firm with an established brand and network. Sure, you will have to agree to a lower rate than you would charge if you earned the business yourself, but another way to look at is that you now have someone generating business for you and you only pay when they actually deliver! That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me.
2. Mining – It’s probably a safe assumption that the work you were doing before you took the plunge into being your own boss is related to the work you’re focusing on as a consultant. If that is the case, the people you associated with and the network you built are rich with opportunities that are a perfect fit for your particular skill set. Or, they themselves may have a need best met by contracting a consultant with your expertise. Since these people know and trust you, there is immense value in mining this resource and cultivating them into a referral network that brings opportunities to you! Think of these connections as your own business development department and liaisons. Being independent does not mean being alone!
3. Collaborating - Being a consultant is amazing….and it is also a lot of work! Especially when going it alone. Collaborating is the power in banding together. Not necessarily in terms of establishing a formal business with partners, but rather, in persistent professional development through collaboration on projects, aligning with other experts who compliment your offerings and augmenting each other’s bandwidth. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many consultants work so hard to make it on their own that ultimately, they burn out or end up failing altogether. Fortunately though, I’ve also seen many successes thanks to groups like the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits that bring people together for the very purpose of collaborating for the greater good of all parties involved!
If you’ve recently established your own consulting practice or are considering doing so in the near future, I applaud you. I also encourage you to be realistic and humble as it takes a lot of effort to get to do the work you’re passionate about. To that end, it is my hope that the above three points prove helpful in getting prospects, and converting them into clients!
After all, an independent practitioner without clients is not a consultant; they’re out of work!
Author: Jonathan Eisler
Managing Director, Perspectives Organizational Consulting Group
President-Elect, Association of Consultants to Nonprofits
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