If you are one of the many IT workers who were downsized out of a job during the recent recession or are interested in being your own boss, consulting can be a lucrative alternative to a nine-to-five full time job. But to be successful will take self-awareness, preparation, and the ability to network extensively.
A consultant is an expert who advises a company, organization, or individual. You would be hard-pressed to find an industry that does not use a consultant in some capacity. It would also be a challenge to find a business that did not rely on computer technology in some fashion. So there are a lot of opportunities to find your niche as an IT consultant
One thing a consultant should not be is a jack of all trades. The first step in building a consultancy business is to identify a specialty such as non-profits, healthcare, education, military, government, or IT training. Just as a general practitioner can make a comfortable living as a small town physician, it’s the heart or cosmetic surgeon who is living in the big house on the hill. Specializing is a way to stand out from the crowd.
But in deciding your specialty, you also need to be aware of market demands. Read industry trade publications, visit IT websites, and check out IT job boards to see what needs employers are looking to fill.
Once you have identified your niche, the next step is to market your new enterprise. That starts with a web site. Unlike a press release which needs to be short and to the point, a website gives you creative freedom. Yes, you want to state up front who you are, what you do, and why you’re the person for the job. You can do that in writing or you can add a video so make more of a personal connection with prospective clients.
A web site gives you the options of adding a testimonial page so as your business takes root, you can offer visitors a ready-made list of referrals. You can have a résumé page. And if you have the time and inclination, you can have a section on the latest news in your field of expertise. Not every client may be predisposed to check out every page on your site, but it’s important to have the information readily available and easily accessible for those who do want to. So make sure the web site is user-friendly and well laid out.
A web site doesn’t take the place of traditional marketing such as press releases, cold calls, and pitch letters; it complements your overall marketing efforts and is the place where you can direct potential customers to go to get in-depth information on both you and your business.
For as important as marketing is, nothing can take the place of networking. You are your best sales tool. Start with the business friends and associates you know, including vendors. Contact them and let them know about your new consulting business. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce for any business mixers they might be hosting. Join business groups and professional associations in your area.
While you want to be energetic and enthusiastic in letting people know about your new business, be careful not to bombard anyone with a pushy, hard sell, which can come across as either overbearing or desperate.
Lastly, spend the money to get a good, printed business card. Do not print them off your home computer. If you want people to see you as a professional, you need to present yourself as one and business cards can reflect that.